U of S centre focuses on the North

Saskatchewan’s North has been neglected for quite some time, but the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development (ICNGD) at the U of S has been working to change that. “Historically, the North has been neglected in all of Canada, not just Saskatchewan,” explained Greg Poelzer, director of the centre and associate professor of political studies. “In Saskatchewan, it comes down to simple math—fewer than 40,000 people live in the North, less than four per cent of the province’s population. It is a bit of a case of out of sight, out of mind for the remaining 96 per cent of Saskatchewan.”

By University Communications

But with ever-increasing global interest in the province's northern resources that include uranium, oil sands, minerals and timber, this area has quickly become critical to the economic health of the entire province, and how the area and its resources are governed and developed are now a key priority for Saskatchewan, said Poelzer.

A couple of years ago, when Poelzer was appointed director, the centre decided to refocus its attention and mission on the relationship between the Circumpolar North and Northern Saskatchewan—specifically defined as anything falling within the Northern Administration District or more loosely defined as north of Prince Albert.

"We are the University of Saskatchewan, not the University of Saskatoon. We don't have a Northern campus, so the centre needs to be a conduit to address issues that Northern communities identify," Poelzer said. "The centre has one agenda: the North. The centre is driven by the belief that we need buy in from all stakeholders and sectors in order to come up with sustainable solutions."

In 2009, stakeholders including members from the provincial government, the university, First Nation and Métis communities, Northlands College and industry partners like Cameco were brought together to come up with priorities for the centre to address. Four main overarching issues resulted from that meeting: governance; innovation, economic development and entrepreneurship; environment, natural resource management and energy; and health and social development.

"In Northern Saskatchewan, 31 per cent of people without a Grade 12 diploma are unemployed compared to only three per cent unemployment for those with a university degree. Post-secondary education matters so much in terms of improving life and building capacity in the North," he said. "So to address the issues identified by Northern stakeholders, the centre focuses on three main areas: research, an undergraduate degree in northern studies, and a master's degree in northern governance and development, the first of its kind in Canada."

When working with First Nations, municipalities, government and industry in developing the curriculum for the master's program, explained Poelzer, there was a consensus on what training, skills and education would be essential for grads from the program to have to become Northern leaders. The programs—developed using U of S capacity and expertise—are being delivered to Northerners in the North, "where they have a better chance for success," he explained. The centre uses a blended strategy of online, face-to-face and video conferencing to deliver the programming.

With additional provincial funding of $1 million announced in the last provincial budget, the centre is able to expand its enrolment for 2011-12 to include 20 undergrad students and more than 10 master-level students.

"These students will be the next cohort of Northern leaders responsible for developing and governing the North and all that it is home to. Because of support from the province and industry partners, such as Cameco, we are well positioned to be a leader in showing the world how to achieve economic growth, resource development, social and governance innovation, and environmental stewardship.

"The North is so important to our sense of place as a university and to the future prosperity of our province. The U of S won't change Northern Saskatchewan, but we can provide the education and research so that Northerners can change it. Northern Saskatchewan faces many challenges, but is on the cusp of enormous opportunities. Saskatchewan people can move mountains; that's why we don't have any."