April 23, 2010
Photo by Mark Ferguson
By Darla Read
A graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan is working to resurrect the Aboriginal Graduates Students’ Association. For now though, it will operate under the new name of the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Council (IGSC).
When Omeasoo Butt began her PhD in history a couple years ago, she wanted to join the group for aboriginal grad students but found out it was no longer running. She spoke to the Graduate Students’ Association, which requires someone to serve on its executive on behalf of the association, so Butt ran for the position and became the VP of aboriginal students. Her mandate was to “increase indigenous grad presence on campus and get the association back up and running.”
Butt has been hard at work since, meeting with a number of indigenous graduate students as well as with administrators. She still needs to meet with the Aboriginal Students’ Centre and the undergrad Indigenous Students’ Council.
The IGSC will work the same as any other, she said. Its name was changed from aboriginal to indigenous to be more inclusive, a reference to non-status people and anyone who self-identifies as indigenous. Butt says the organization is going with “council” instead of “association” because “it did fail before, (so) we need to work as a council as part of the Graduate Students’ Association and build off the support we are getting there now.” Eventually, the organization could return to the title of association.
Butt hopes the council will provide peer support to indigenous graduate students. She says they are working to find their own space so students can meet and unwind, because she points out grad studies can be “hard and isolating.” She says graduate students need a separate space from the undergraduates because in many cases, grad students serve as teachers to the much younger undergrads.
She also hopes the group will be a lobbying voice and represent the indigenous voice on campus.
In setting up the new organization, Butt redesigned the core council into a lateral structure, so there is no hierarchy. “The idea is everyone has equal responsibility so not one person gets too much or gets burnt out.”
So far, there are five people on the council but there are 17 positions to fill. Butt’s goal is to fill those positions over the next four years but would be happy to recruit more students sooner.
“We need voices. We need to know what kind of concerns the other students want presented to the rest of the university community.”
Butt says the council will help undergraduates apply for graduate studies as well as help current students find funding opportunities. Stan Tu’Inukuafe, who is doing his master’s of education and hopes to be on the council, welcomes those initiatives and also hopes to build relationships.
“As ISGC grows, hopefully seasoned graduate students or future alumni would be encouraged to become mentors for potential graduate students.”
Butt has a PAWS and Facebook group and encourages other indigenous students to get involved. She says the council can only build on the supports that already exist for indigenous students – the reason she chose to study here.
“I think this is one of the strongest universities as far as aboriginal support goes, and I think this council can only add to that reputation, and also provide legitimacy for that reputation.”
Darla Read is a Saskatoon freelance writer