FNUniv has given the opportunity to celebrate culture and learn
For Cadmus Delorme, Student Recruitment Officer and recent graduate of the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), education is First Nations peoples’ “greatest weapon of today.”
“One of the treaty promises was education. When the chiefs touched that pen in 1874, one of the chiefs said, ‘we’ll give you one of our children, and you give us one of yours, and together we’ll teach each other’s education.’ And that today is what First Nations University of Canada does,” says Delorme.
Delorme says the tools of education, of “writing skills and administration skills,” will lead to “less poverty and less social issues,” and to “economic booms.”
Delorme’s comments come as FNUniv celebrated its ten-year anniversary on Sep 12 to mark its current title (the previous title was Saskatchewan Indian Federated College). The celebration also commemorated the ten years that staff, faculty, and, most importantly, students have called their holistic, expansive, inclusive building home.
And it does feel like home.
Laughter and chatter reverberate throughout the building. The sunlight floods in through the glass of Veterans Memorial Tipi, wrapping passers-by in comforting warmth. If the white interior serves as a peaceful backdrop for the building, then the vibrantly deep colors of its artwork bring it to life: rustic blues, dusty yellows, and deep reds that border on maroon all enliven the senses and awaken the self.
The themes of home and inclusion permeate the university, as evidenced by Delorme’s and others’ comments.
Delorme explains that as a recruitment officer, he goes beyond simply putting bodies in classrooms.
“I help [students] register. [Or] help them find a hundred dollars if they might be lacking a hundred dollars for the one time [registration] fee; I help them find an apartment; help them find daycare.”
He says he’s involved in “the whole value chain, right to getting [students] to their first class.”
It’s fitting, then, that Misty Longman, Manager of the Aboriginal Student Support Centre at the University of Regina, refers to FNUniv as a “second home.”
Longman attended FNUniv from 2003 to 2008; she describes it as small, and more “community oriented than a bigger institution.” She’s fond of its people who share “likeminded viewpoints and backgrounds, including instructors and professors.”
Similarly, Daphne Kay notes how instructors at FNUniv have “cultural sensitivity,” allowing it to be so “welcoming and very inviting.” She says at FNUniv “everyone is learning at the same pace. There are no preconceived ideas that you ‘know all this already.’”
Kay is in her fourth year of studies. She’s majoring in political science and minoring in the Salteaux language. She is also the President of the Indigenous Students Association at the University of Regina.
The sense of home and belonging connects with the inclusion of FNUniv.
“Anyone can go there, anyone can apply there, and anyone can get a degree there. It really represents inclusiveness as well as bringing back [Indigenous] culture,” says Kay.
Huge segments of Indigenous culture were suppressed and wiped out because of the residential school system, initiated when “the federal government [of Canada] contracted with the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Church denominations as well as various Roman Catholic orders to run residential schools in 1892,” states Religious Studies professor Bryan Hillis.
It should be noted the Gordon Residential School was the last residential school to be shut down; it was located in Saskatchewan. It closed in 1996.
Canada’s recent brutal past actions towards First Nations peoples underscores the importance of having FNUniv as a place of inclusion, support, and growth.
Daphne Kay says “Because [First Nations] people are still in that residential school phase, a lot of people are ashamed to talk their language, ashamed to take part in their cultural things. Having FNUniv on our campus means we have a better opportunity of having [our cultural things] here.”
For Kay, Indigenous culture is equally vital to future generations of children and grandchildren.
She explains, “when growing up, I learned a few words here or there, but elders were still afraid or ashamed to speak their own language. A few elders would only speak their own language and I couldn’t talk to them. So, learning my language is one of the greatest things that came from university at FNUniv. I have a cultural connection and I can also teach my children. I never got to know my language as a child. Language is a lifeblood to a culture, so when you fully understand it, everything becomes more colourful, detailed, intriguing, and more meaningful.”
On top of the vital role FNUniv plays for First Nations people, equally important is building on the tradition of dual-education between First Nations and non-First Nations peoples.
Brad Bellegarde is the Vice President of Communication for the FNUniv Student’s Association. He hopes that all University of Regina students will “take a class [at FNUniv], come take a look around.” He underscores that “[FNUniv has] an open door and we want to bring more non-First Nations people to learn more. Non-First Nations people are treaty people too.”
Daphne Kay agrees, “I’d like to see the stereotype diminished that only Aboriginals or Indigenous ancestry people can go there. I want everyone to know that anyone can go there, and that enrolment numbers should be up because it’s a great place to be.”
According to Racelle Kooy, FNUniv Director of Communications, “as of [Sept. 12, 2013], there are 755 registered FNUniv students. This is a 15% increase year over year from 2012, and 2012 was a 10% increase from 2011.” The university pegs its number of graduates at just over 3,000.
During its thirty-seven year tenure (both as SIFC and as FNUniv), the university has seen 25,000 students from Luther College, Campion College, and the University of Regina benefit from its offerings.
Looking to the future, Delorme, Longman, and Kay all want the university to ensure it is a place of inclusion, growth, and learning for First Nations and non-First Nations peoples Canada wide. All three see enrolment numbers increasing over the next ten years.