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On June 21st, National Aboriginal Day, the former Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) was adorned with a new name and an equally significant new and prestigious permanent home.
The opening of the First Nations University of Canada comes at a significant time as First Nations continue to demonstrate their determination and ingenuity in many areas including education. It is another step in realizing the aspirations of the First Nations in building on the Treaty Right to education and in moving toward greater self-determination.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations embarked on First Nations control of First Nations education in 1976 by entering into an agreement with the University of Regina to create the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. When the SIFC first opened its doors in 1976, there were only nine students enrolled, however, that number has reached well over 2000. With the growing number of people accessing SIFC and its courses, problems arose trying to accommodate not only the students but the staff as well. There was an obvious need for a larger building space. This vision was clear and over the years there have been three sod-turning ceremonies to move toward building a new home. However, on National Aboriginal Day 2003 this vision was finally realized.
It was a beautiful day with a slight breeze and the sun shining ensuring that all those in attendance enjoyed the day. There were hundreds of people there. Elders, Senators, Veterans, Chiefs, SIFC alumni, provincial and federal Cabinet ministers, SIFC Donors, Regina City Mayor Pat Fiacco, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde, Lieutenant Governor Dr. Lynda Haverstock and His Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex.
A First Nations traditional pipe ceremony was held on site to bless the new building and all it encompasses. At 9:45 a.m. the grand march began with His Royal Highness and Her Honour leading the way. The procession was remarkable, with many Chiefs in attendance wearing their traditional attire. The program was short with
an opening prayer then victory and honour songs from Kaisawatum singers. Elder Bea Lavallee spoke about the songs and shared them in English. Following the opening, speeches were delivered by FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde, SIFC student Robert Cote, University of Regina President Dr. David Bernard, Minister of Public Works & Services Ralph Goodale, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert and First Nations University of Canada President Eber Hampton.
After the speeches His Royal Highness officially opened the First Nations University of Canada. This moment was truly a tremendous time for both First Nations and non-First Nations people. Perhaps FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde captured it best with his sentiments; "This is a great, powerful, wonderful day for Treaty First Nations. When Treaty was signed between the Crown and our people, there was a recognition for the need of the non-First Nation system of education and the First Nations University of Canada has provided that balance. There are teachings of First Nations traditional style, including language, customs and ceremonies, in conjunction with the formal academic stream. This will allow First Nations people to successfully walk in both worlds."
"...This will allow First Nations people to
successfully walk in both worlds."