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Building Partnership For The New Millennuim

John Bauchop Wells

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 1999/2000      v30 n01 p09  
Mention Indian education in North America and you have to talk about the unique leadership of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC). The only First Nation-controlled university-college in Canada, SIFC is dedicated to preserving and expanding Aboriginal heritage in college teaching and research.

This year, more than 1,600 students are enrolled in courses such as science, history and literature, all of which are taught from a First Nation perspective. There are many other courses in Indian languages, First Nation studies, Indian communication arts and Indian education. Social work, business, nursing and dentistry programs all prepare graduates for work in First Nation and mainstream society.

"Our mandate is to supply a Western education, plus traditional knowledge," says Jo Ann Thom, the new Dean of Academics for SIFC. "And that's good, I think our students deserve to be in a top-notch university.

Thom, former acting dean and head of the English department, says when the College began in 1976, traditional values and ceremonies were very strong and she is dedicated to maintaining those values at SIFC today. "There's nothing comparable to us, we're Indian-controlled."

While the focus is strongly on students receiving academic and traditional education, Thom also points out the importance of research at SIFC. "I'm really concerned that, if we're not doing original research, whose stuff are we teaching? Some mainstream person who has no knowledge of our students or communities? Our faculty is evaluated on research and scholarship useful to First Nations- this is exactly where we're at.

She points out that SIFC is an officially recognized research university. "Aboriginal people have had research done on them forever, but not done with them, for them."

SIFC's stature among mainstream universities is important, but, says Thom, "I think it's really, really equally important for someone who can really relate to our students and not just the middle-class ones, someone who can go out to the reserve or the community and talk to people on their level."

Thom's views are echoed throughout SIFC. "As First Nations exercise increasing jurisdiction over curriculum and other operations, First Nation students will gain the tools to live wisely on the earth," says Dr. Eber Hampton, president of SIFC.

Dr. Hampton says an SIFC education is one way to prepare young people to exercise self-determination. "Realistically, Canadian universities have not and cannot fulfill this role. Indian control of Indian education is not just for elementary and secondary education. It is even more important that we seize our responsibility for university education as an expression of self-government.

"We have the responsibilities to articulate the knowledge, philosophies and the ideals of our living cultures."

(continued on page 18)

Building Partnership For The New Millennuim

John Bauchop Wells

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 1999/2000      v30 n01 p18  
Dr. Norbert Witt, new head of the Department of Indian Education, says, "We have to get away from the Western model and use it only as a resource. It's important, especially in this department where we train teachers to have a different attitude. This is the only institution that is Native. We have to have our own standards as a College."

Preserving Indian culture is not all that is unique at SIFC. The College has five campuses in Regina, including the University of Regina, with which it is federated, plus Saskatoon and the Northern Campus, Prince Albert. Liaison offices at Regina, Meadow Lake and La Ronge serve 22 Aboriginal communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. In addition, SIFC delivers practical education to the needs of remote, fly-in communities through its Distance Education programs.

Land has been set aside near the University of Regina for a new building to house all SIFC Regina departments. Funding negotiations are still underway. And, the Indigenous Centre for International Development, under the direction of Del Anaquod, professor of Indian Studies, wants to meet the education needs of Indigenous people worldwide. Since 1983, SIFC has had 27 agreements with Indigenous peoples' institutions in Canada, South and Central America, Asia, the Caribbean, China, Mongolia, Tanzania and other countries. Many SIFC students have worked in these countries to fulfill their internships.

What else is unique or new about SIFC in the 1999-2000 academic year?

An SIFC education includes the presence of Elders, who offer wisdom, and counsel to students and the College as a whole. Many Elders have gained their knowledge of ceremonies from traditional teachers who desire to serve their people. Their knowledge of First Nations' traditions, culture and spirituality creates a unique support service.

-SIFC fosters a genuine friendly atmosphere and collegiality, which can be difficult to achieve in larger universities. This friendliness and openness in turn provides self-confidence for students and helps the learning process.

-Students can get a Masters degree in Business Administration, with a focus on Indigenous management, a Bachelor of Commerce with an Indian banking component and SIFC is proceeding with plans for a Masters degree in First Nation social work.

-In the Department of Indian Languages, Literature and Linguistics, courses are available in Cree, Ojibway, Dene, Nakota and Dakota languages. Department head Solomon Ratt and Professor Anok Wolvengrey are about to publish a Cree-English dictionary.

-In all, there are 15 departments at SIFC, with about 60 faculty members. Learn more about SIFC at website

Building partnerships for the new millennium? Yes, with students, educators, business, First Nations, other Aboriginal peoples and, making the circle complete, with each other.