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First Nations people across the country have been making continuous progress in the area of education. The increase in the number of First Nation students graduating from post-secondary institutions can be attributed to the many people who have worked behind the scenes to ensure First Nations people succeed. George E. Lafond is one such person who is determined to make sure that post-secondary institutions are First Nations friendly.
On January 2, 2003, George was appointed to the newly created position at the University of Saskatchewan of the Special Advisor on Aboriginal Initiatives to the President. Upon taking the position he stated "Demographics tell us that the future workforce will be drawn increasingly from the pool of available First Nations and Metis people. The University of Saskatchewan and all institutions must prepare for this and turn out larger numbers of graduates to supply the workforce and to revitalize the economy of Saskatchewan. The University of Saskatchewan has clearly recognized the need to engage the Aboriginal community in partnerships and opportunities that will benefit not only the University of Saskatchewan and Aboriginal people, but also the province as a whole."
In his capacity as Special Advisor, George is a key consultant to University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon and his team. As well, he advises vice presidents, deans, and senior staff on representing the U of S to the Aboriginal community - a sign of building positive relationships between the First Nations and non-First Nations educational institutions. This is the latest in a series of recent developments aimed at improving programming for Aboriginal people at the University of Saskatchewan. George is pleased to be working with leading Aboriginal scholars across Canada and some excellent Aboriginal staff within the University.
In 2002, the University of Saskatchewan released the document "A Conceptual Framework for Aboriginal Initiatives." The document signaled six areas that were imperative for growth and development; academic programs, research programs, student affairs, cultural programs, community outreach, and co-ordination. George considers this document integral to his work plan when developing new initiatives and building on existing initiatives. George says, "What I want for the University of Saskatchewan is to be seen as a leading university in Aboriginal matters. Since my arrival in January, we have been laying the groundwork for success through initiatives such as the transition program, which will be launched this fall to support Aboriginal student success in their first year on campus."
George was born and raised on the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Treaty Six Territory. He often reflects back on his time growing up with his family and in the community of Muskeg Lake: "Education was always valued in the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and in my own family. While my parents' generation hit the glass ceiling with residential school - they did enter the work force and try to provide for the family and make a difference for the community."
George completed high school in Marcelin, a town near Muskeg Lake. Following this, he attended the University of Saskatchewan and
After a few years at Bedford, and with memories of his visit to Ottawa at the age of 16 for Youth Parliament, George set out to work in Ottawa. He secured employment as a special assistant to the Minister of Indian Affairs during a very critical time in Canada's history. He was in Ottawa during the Charlottetown constitutional negotiations. In addition to these remarkable positions, George also served as President of the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business. Since 1995, George held elected positions at the Saskatoon Tribal Council, as Vice-Chief and Chief: "The Saskatoon Tribal Council and the member First Nations reinforced to me how important partnerships are for the future development of First Nations people. We cannot build the capacity of our communities if we take a position of isolation wait for someone to come to us. We must make our opportunities in Saskatchewan and work with those who extend a hand of friendship or expertise."
George maintains strong ties with his family and community. He is married to Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and is the father of three daughters, Alphonsine (7), and twins Portia and Isobel (1 year). He has been actively involved as the coach of the Petequacey Blades. The Petequacey Blades have won the "Indian Stanley Cup" and many other impressive hockey tournaments in Indian country and most recently became the National Champions of the Adult Safe League "D" Division at a tournament in Burnaby, British Columbia. His commitment to community is apparent through his dedication to preserving important landmarks on the Muskeg Lake reserve. He has served on many boards such as the Banff Centre of Management, Wanuskewin Heritage Board, the United Way and currently he serves on the Board of Directors for SaskEnergy.
George would like to send a message to young people. "Set your goals and dreams and be prepared to work for them - don't expect things to be simply given to you. Many opportunities are within the grasp of our youth and we must help open doors and guide them so that they can lead us in the future. There is no better investment of our time and energy than in education and our youth, because it is an investment in the Saskatchewan of tomorrow."