Aboriginal student population increases at the University of Saskatchewan

SASKATOON – The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) saw close to a 30 per cent increase in Aboriginal enrollment this semester compared to last fall.

There are currently close to 2,000 aboriginal students enrolled at the university.

The university is actively reaching out to First Nations communities across the province in an effort to get more aboriginal students on campus, says Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, the University of Saskatchewan First Nations and Métis Engagement Director at its English River facility.

Saskatchewan’s non-aboriginals who do not finish high school are employed at a rate close to 25 per cent higher than First Nations people who are of the same educational level.

However, that gap almost disappears if you compare both groups when they achieve a university degree, according to the Saskatchewan Labour Market Commission

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“You’re on your way to that degree and then you have made your life better for yourself, your family, your future generation, so that gap is critical for us,” said Wasacase-Lafferty.

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The English River facility is located on land owned by the First Nation, just south of Saskatoon. The facility reaches out to First Nations communities in Saskatchewan and provides cultural and spiritual support for aboriginal students once they step onto the university’s campus.

“They’re comfortable; they kind of settle into their studies a little better because they know there’s a connection to home, even if it’s a spiritual connection,” said Robert Badger, the facility’s cultural coordinator.

On campus, students can find an inviting atmosphere at the Aboriginal Students’ Centre, according to one of its student ambassadors, J.D. Bell.

“In the [centre] there’s just a really tight community, everybody goes out of their way to make people feel welcome and when you come to a university, you don’t know your way around campus and you don’t know anybody,” said Bell, who’s in his first year at the U of S after transferring from the University of Regina.

Bell said he found comfort in the Aboriginal Students’ Centre during his initial days on campus. Feeling comfortable with your surroundings can translate into better grades in the classroom, he added.

“When they feel out of place they’re a little more timid in class,” said Bell.

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“When they [to the centre] and start feeling like they do have a family, they’re not alone, they start feeling a little more comfortable, their marks, their classes, it becomes a more positive experience for them.”

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