The ins and outs of the Neekaneewak Indigenous Leadership Initiative

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author: taylor balfour | news writer


The ASC is leading the effort / jeremy davis

What the initiative is for and how it helps U of R thrive

The Aboriginal Student Success Centre is rounding its second year celebrating leadership in the community with an award created in 2017, as is once again it’s making its existence well known on campus. 

“Do you know an Indigenous student developing as a leader? Do you know someone who provides opportunities for Indigenous students to develop and practice leadership?” Their newsletter says. “Please nominate them to be recognized through the Neekaneewak Indigenous Leadership Initiative.” 

The Neekaneewak in Neekaneewak Indigenous Leadership Initiative translates to “they are leading,” which is an accurate way to describe what the award hopes to reward: new and upcoming leaders in the community. 

The Aboriginal Student Success Centre describes the award as one that “concentrates on 4 identified areas of leadership development for Indigenous university students at the University of Regina and federated institutions.” The areas of development the student centre hopes to recognize are split into four categories: “academic, personal, professional, and cultural.” However, a single person can be nominated for more than one award. 

“With these key learning outcomes in mind, the Aboriginal Student Centre invites the campus and larger community to recognize students who show commitment to realizing their path to becoming strong leaders in our community,” the press release claims. 

Each of the four categories of growth have their own nominations, allowing multiple awards to be handed out every year. Ever since the award began in 2017, that’s exactly what it’s been doing. 

The Aboriginal Student Success Centre claims that they want the award to “acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous students who are developing and practicing skills and knowledge as leaders that benefit our community,” as well as “recognize those who support & contribute to student leadership experiences, development, and to their overall success.” 

However, the center always claims that students aren’t the only ones eligible for nomination of the award. Other viable applications include faculty, Elders, University of Regina alumni, and other community members who “contribute to student leadership experiences, development, and success.” 

The nomination period, which opened in early October, is running until the beginning of March, 2019 and all it takes to nominate someone is by filling out a digital form. The application process is supposed to take anywhere from five to ten minutes, and consists of “a short combination of fill in the blank and multiple choice questions.” 

According to the University of Regina website, the group that will select winners, known as the “Neekaneewak Leadership Team” is “composed of Elders, successful alumni, senior students and student support partners providing culturally relevant programming, mentoring, supports and leadership development opportunities to Indigenous students at the University of Regina.” 

Looking at the University of Regina’s website, we get a glimpse as to why this award is so important. The U of R states on its page describing the benefits of the award that  “for many First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, the transition to post-secondary studies can be a struggle.” 

They also claim that “students who may have moved from a reserve to an unfamiliar campus environment, or who have had little success with formalized education, must adapt to this new reality while also focusing on a higher level of study.” 

In 2011, StatsCanada released a report entitled “The educational attainment of Aboriginal peoples in Canada” that stated that in the surveyed group of Aboriginal people between the ages of 25 and 64, “28.9 per cent had ‘no certificate, diploma or degree.’” In comparison, “the proportion for non-Aboriginal people in the same age group was 12.1 per cent.” 

However, the study also showed that things are growing better than previous years, as when the survey was conducted, “younger Aboriginal women and men were both more likely to have college diplomas than older ones.” 

The study also shows that the number of Aboriginal women who had “trades certificates, college diplomas, university certificates below bachelor level” or degrees continues to grow. In 2011, Aboriginal women aged between 55 to 64 with a postsecondary diploma was at 46.5 per cent, but jumped to 55.3 per cent in those aged 35 to 44 years. No doubt, awards like this continue to help inspire and motivate students to stay in school. 

On the U of R’s website discussing the Neekaneewak Leadership Initiative award, there is also a section encouraging donors to support the award by saying that “investing in the new Neekaneewak Leadership Initiative will ensure a year-round program that will have significant impact on the academic success of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.” 

The website also states that the award will allow students “to benefit from the knowledge and wisdom gained from both traditional and emerging ways of knowing, foster Aboriginal youth leadership on the University of Regina campus and ensure graduates have the knowledge and skills to play an ever-increasing leadership role in their home communities and the province at large.” 

After a nomination has been submitted for the award the NLI Leadership Team, or the team of Elders, will review the applications and contact nominees prior to what they call “the Acknowledgement Ceremony.” 

For this batch of nominees, the ceremony will take place in April 2019 in Regina to “recognize nominated individuals.” For all those attending the ceremony for nominations, they’ll receive a certificate, “a NLI leadership pin,” and a “congratulatory award letter with comments provided specific to the individual.” 

Awards and organizations like this clearly have an affect on keeping students motivated and wanting to stay in school. The stats continuing to grow every year are a sure sign of the success of awards like the Neekaneewak Initiative. 

“As we revitalize our communities, Indigenous students are realizing their potential to be active leaders in many capacities, and these shining stars are lighting the way for a very bright future!” The Success Centre claims, and their award is certainly helping reward those in our community who continue to make the University of Regina a better and brighter place. 

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