Agreement with Wanuskewin furthers U of S Aboriginal plans
By Lawrence McMahen
The U of S has taken another step towards embracing Aboriginal culture and being more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal students.
It is now well into a new two-year co-operation agreement with Wanuskewin Heritage Park, the national Aboriginal site just north of Saskatoon.
Leaders at both institutions say the January 2004–December 2005 agreement brings mutual benefits. The U of S gains access to Wanuskewin’s facilities and resource people, and Wanuskewin gains closer ties to the teaching and research expertise at the University and more opportunities to display its own expertise.
The two-year deal will have Wanuskewin provide Aboriginal awareness sessions, cultural resources and use of its classroom and other facilities for U of S faculty, staff and students. The University will pay $71,000 to Wanuskewin in each of the agreement’s two years.
The agreement follows an April 2002 memorandum of understanding signed by Wanuskewin Chief Executive Officer Sheila Gamble and U of S President Peter MacKinnon, pledging to look for ways the two institutions could work together more closely.
Gamble says now “seems a good time to see how we can enhance the University’s participation with Wanuskewin” – especially given the recent U of S foundational document on Aboriginal issues and the inclusion of Aboriginal initiatives proposed in the University’s Integrated Plan for 2003-07.
Gamble and George Lafond, the U of S Special Advisor on Aboriginal Initiatives, note the University has been involved with Wanuskewin since before it was officially established. After finding evidence of 6,000 years of continuous habitation in the area in the early 1980s, Archaeology Prof. Ernie Walker was instrumental in bringing people together to create the heritage park. It was declared a heritage site in 1987 and the park opened in 1992.
Over the years U of S links with Wanuskewin have increased. Walker and his students have continued archaeological digs, Wanuskewin elders and dancers have taken part in annual powwows at the University, cultural awareness sessions have been held at the heritage park, and in 2001 more than two dozen senior U of S administrators had the rare privilege of taking part in a sweat-lodge ceremony at the park.
Lafond says a key part of the new co-operation agreement is the provision of Aboriginal awareness workshops.
“We’ve already had three pilot run-throughs a year ago with a total of about 40 new faculty – and they reported that they felt these are important sessions that really opened their eyes,” Lafond says.
Amber McCuaig, Senior Administrative Assistant in the U of S Provost’s office, says seven full-day sessions for about 20 people each are planned for this fall. She adds most participants will be University staff, but some will be faculty.
Gamble says Wanuskewin’s support for Aboriginal cultural resources at the U of S will be a great help for the indigenous students who come from remote and northern areas. This will include the services of an elder.
“Elders are the PhDs of Aboriginal culture, and we feel it’s important for the elders to share their knowledge with students on campus,” Gamble says.
She adds the links will not only provide social support for students and cultural awareness for students, faculty and staff – they “will open the door to more research projects and study.”
For example, Gamble says, the College of Medicine recently brought a group to Wanuskewin to talk to elders about traditional Aboriginal healing and medicine, and plans more sessions this winter.
One area that looks forward to increasing its contact with Wanuskewin is the University’s Native Studies department. Its head, Roger Maaka, says while his programs have had regular contact with Wanuskewin, “we’re looking at expanding in all ways. We’re hoping to enter into negotiations with Wanuskewin on making it accessible for our students.
“Wanuskewin offers us a level of space and ambience you can’t get in a lecture room,” Maaka says.
McCuaig, who will administer the U of S agreement with Wanuskewin, says the heritage park’s facilities are available for use by faculty, staff and students for University functions.
“There is a faculty development workshop planned for late-September, and possibly a public lecture in the fall.”
McCuaig says the former archaeology lab at Wanuskewin is being renovated to become classroom space and should be ready by January for U of S and Wanuskewin use. Archaeology lab work is now done in the Archaeology department on campus.
McCuaig says information about access to resources provided by the new agreement is going out across campus and is available on the PAWS web portal under the Provost’s Office group. She invites inquiries about increased use of Wanuskewin, at 966-8484.