President pledges to advance Aboriginal engagement

Working to ensure Aboriginal students succeed at the University of Saskatchewan will benefit those students, but much more is at stake, said President Ilene Busch-Vishniac.

"If we don't help, we are dooming this province," she said March 15 after speaking at Taking Stock, a poster expo highlighting various campus programs and services geared to Aboriginal students.

Within 15 years, half of all children in Saskatchewan public schools will be Aboriginal, said Busch-Vishniac. It is critical that they be provided equal access and equal opportunity, and the U of S is committed to assisting them achieve academic success.

Aboriginal Achievement Week at the U of S, which culminated with Taking Stock, was "filled with wondrous, respectful, educational, celebratory engagement with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people and culture," said Busch- Vishniac.

Earlier in the week, someone remarked to the president that it would be nice if every day were Aboriginal achievement day. At Taking Stock, she told the audience in the Education Gym that it is not sufficient to recognize and celebrate differences only once a year but the vast array of programs and services for Aboriginal people and by Aboriginal people demonstrates just how much effort goes into Aboriginal engagement.

Aboriginal students are enrolled in every college at the undergraduate and graduate levels, she said. As well, the Colleges of Education and Law have led the way locally and nationally in the education of Aboriginal teachers and lawyers.

"We can't take it for granted that just because we care on a daily basis how comfortable our First Nations, Métis and Inuit faculty, staff and students feel on this campus, that we shouldn't take time to celebrate. And I'm very pleased we've done that this week."

Busch-Vishniac pointed out areas for improvement: the six-year completion rate for degrees among Aboriginal students is lower than for non-Aboriginal students, and Aboriginal people are under represented based on the province's demographics among the university's staff complement.

"We cannot be proud until Aboriginal students see themselves mirrored in their teachers," she said.

Some changes are already in the works to include symbols important to the Aboriginal community at convocation ceremonies, on the university's website and the campus itself.

"These are just the beginning of our plans to renew our commitment and dedication to helping First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities achieve their educational goals," said Busch-Vishniac. "I pledge the U of S will not waver in its dedication to this mission."

Lana Haight is a Saskatoon freelance writer.
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