Tawaw - The Circle of Learning Welcomes You

By Elizabeth Maier

Reprinted with permission from
Eagle Feather News - October 1999 - pg.12

Chester KnightThe school year is well under way and many senior high school students are thinking about what the future will hold after grade twelve. Teachers, guidance counsellors and student advisors everywhere are encouraging students to continue with their formal education. We all know that the chances of finding rewarding and fulfilling careers and jobs are much better with a certificate, diploma or a degree. But keep in mind that there is more to the experience of continuing with formal education than simply more years of attending classes, writing essays and passing exams. Ahead lies a unique and special time of life, because after so many years of meeting the requirements and the expectations of others, the future is now up to you! If you are thinking about what happens right after grade twelve, or perhaps it has been a few years since you have been in school at all, or maybe you are a mature student contemplating a new career, post-secondary education will change your life!

SIFC, for example, is the first "First Nations-controlled university-level degree granting institution in North America." The Mission Statement of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College is to enhance the quality of life and to preserve, protect, and interpret the history, language, culture and the artistic nature of First Nations.

The SIFC Logo features five feathers representing the five First Nations Tribal groups in Saskatchewan: the Cree, Saulteaux, Dene, Dakota and Assiniboine. The Circle represents the unending process of education that takes place throughout our lifetime. The Chief's head represents the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College's membership in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations' family of institutions.

Celebrating twenty-five years as an institution of learning, SIFC offers Faculties of Arts, English, Indian Studies, Indian Languages - Literatures - and Linguistics, Education, Fine Arts, Science, International Indigenous Studies, National School of Dental Therapy, a Northern Campus and a Faculty of Social Work.

So much to choose from! Each faculty provides for unique and exciting careers. If you are thinking about a career in the field of Scoial Work for example, The School of Indian Social Work is the only First Nation-controlled School of Social Work in Canada and its degree is accredited by the Canadian Association of Schools of Scoial Work (CASSW). The School of Indian Social Work operates with the mission of the SIFC to provide social work knowledge and develop skills based on First Nations culture, values and philosophy. Its focus is to strengthen First Nations individuals, families, groups and communities.

Chester Knight is the Academic Counselor for the Faculty of Social Work at SIFC. He stresses the difference between the larger institutions and SIFC in that the smaller campus lends itself to a strong sense of community. There are 250 students in the Social Work program with about 70% of students coming from reserves, and many 2nd generation urban residents attending. The atmosphere at SIFC provides a similar support system familiar to students coming from small communities and reserves.

Stressing the importance of the Elder's influence in the day to day life of SIFC students and staff, Chester explains that, "including traditional ceremonies and philosophies, ensures that students and staff find peace and encouragement. The tools needed to go on with a sense of well being, are provided through spirituality and knowledge about First Nations cultures." Chester explained that more and more, students are seeking knowledge about their histories, ceremonies and the spiritual traditions of the past. Language is considered to be one of the strongest links to identity and connecting to traditional Cree culture. The Cree language course is a required course and Chester mentioned that the revival of language is very important to understanding traditional spirituality.

He points out that, "there is a very positive change happening for First Nations Peoples and SIFC is one of the main contributors to that." SIFC instructors encourage students to do research into their families origin in order to build upon the foundations that will help them succeed in what ever happens in their lives.

Although racism is not a factor at SIFC it does exist elsewhere. There is a safe learning environment provided that will help those going on into other colleges and institutions because Elders, instructors, and support staff concentrate on building self-esteem in each student.

Concerning the practical and academic requirements throughout the degree program there is help and assistance every step of the way. Chester explains that the students all get to know the instructors and develop a close working relationship with all the staff members. Also there is a strong support system between students because many are together throughout the entire four years.

Students learn both western-mainstream techniques and First Nations philosophies for counselling and dealing with clients and the demands of a job in the field of Social Work.

One of the most interesting and exciting things about SIFC is that "successive generations of students attend...sometimes at the same time. Young students witness first hand the successes of their parents, aunties and uncles and are part of the learning experience at the same time. There is no sense of getting lost here as there is in larger or mainstream universities."

Chester stressed that, "Students don't just come for themselves. They come for their families, for their communities and for the betterment of First Nations everywhere. Sometimes they don't feel like coming to classes, but we encourage them to remember what the whole picture is. The Social Work program is a very good place to start. Job prospects are good...the incentive to finish is strong, and we are all here to help everyone succeed in the programs. Remember who you are and take pride in where you come from. The rest will take care of itself."

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