An important moment took place on Thursday at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre, nearly one year to the day it officially opened.
University of Saskatchewan (U of S) president Peter Stoicheff and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron signed a memorandum of understanding outlining their joint commitment to helping First Nations students succeed.
“We’re on the right journey together, we’re moving forward together and that’s all we ever ask – creating more opportunity for our first nations students,” Cameron said.
The agreement builds upon what is believed to be a first in Canada, a province-wide commitment by post-secondary institutions to close the educational gap for indigenous students.
“There’s an enormous one in this province and in fact across the country,” Stoicheff said.
“The TRC calls to action came out about a year ago now, it’s really incumbent upon us to really respond.”
In two decades, 20 per cent of the Saskatchewan’s population is expected to be First Nations which is why it’s imperative for institutions to address this demographic shift now instead of later.
“I always say if it’s not now, given the TRC and where we are in Canadian history, when’s it going to be? If it’s not this university, who’s it going to be?” Stoicheff said.
“This has been a longstanding commitment for us and the MOU that we just signed today is a big step in that direction.”
Approximately 23,000 students attend the U of S, 12 per cent who are First Nations. The campus’ overall goal is to keep pace with the percentage of indigenous people in the province.
“The consensus says that’s more like 16 per cent so we still have a ways to go but we have been growing our aboriginal student population in the last three or four years significantly and I might say more importantly than that is they have been successful in that they have been graduating.”
In the 2015-16 academic year, there were 2,669 indigenous students on campus, a 37 per cent increase in five years.
There were nearly 500 graduates in spring and fall that same year, up 56 per cent. As of Sept. 6, self-declared aboriginal student enrolment had gone up 8.4 per cent from the autumn before.