No, not really.
Last week, the new president of the University of Saskatchewan, Peter Stoicheff, took time during one of his first speeches as president to take veiled shots at other Canadian universities for not doing enough to meet the 94 “Calls to Action” put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June. The Commission was created in response to the ongoing impacts of Canada’s dark history of residential schooling, which resulted in the systematic abuse of thousands of Aboriginal children from the 1840’s until 1996.
In a recent Canadian Press article, Stoicheff is quoted as saying that Canada must make “a concerted and cooperative effort to respect, expand, and enrich the knowledge systems, ways of knowing, languages, traditions, heritages, and experience of Aboriginal peoples in tandem with the other knowledge systems of the great minds at the university.” On this, we agree. Where Stoicheff is mistaken is when he goes on to say, “I can tell you that other universities in this country look to us [U of S] to make a difference in this regard. They’re doing a lot as well, but they’re also looking to us.”
Well… not really, no.
Of the 94 specific recommendations laid down by the commission, only four make specific mention of post-secondary education, and in these, U of R is doing the superior job. The Truth and Reconciliation document calls mainly for changes in funding from the federal government, but does call specifically on post-secondary institutions to “create University and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages,” and to “educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.”
While it may not yet be possible to get an engineering degree in an Aboriginal language at the U of R, our federated college, First Nations University of Canada, offers degrees or minors in Cree, Salteaux, Dakota, Dene, and Nakota, as well as programs in Indigenous Languages/Linguistics up to the Masters level. U of S only offers Cree.
When it comes to the second part of the TRC’s recommendations for post-secondary institutions (educating teachers), most of the burden is placed on the federal government through an increase in funding (an ongoing and unsurprising theme in the report). Despite this, U of R continues to lead by example, offering courses in Indigenous Education through FNU designed to “produce teachers who can promote First Nations control of First Nations education by developing and implementing First Nations content.” Basically, we’re already doing what the TRC wants in Regina, only with less federal funding than is apparently necessary.
U of S is also touting a forum hosted by AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde as an example of their imagined leadership among post-secondary institutions. Of course, Chief Bellegarde spoke on similar topics at the U of R last month, but let’s not worry about that…
I will not deny that there are many more aspects of the TRC’s report, which could be further incorporated into post-secondary education. That is a conversation that definitely needs to happen. But when it comes to leading the way in Aboriginal-focused post-secondary education, the only things that I believe can honestly measure success are these: the number of Aboriginal students per capita, and whether that number is rising. With an Aboriginal enrollment of almost 12 per cent of the student body (and growing quickly), U of R beats out U of S again. Maybe they should be looking to us to make a difference, instead of the other way around.