Building bridges

A unique program designed to expand understanding between Aboriginal and international students at the U of S was the topic of a presentation at the North American Higher Education conference in Arizona in early October.

Davida Bentham, a student assistant in the International Student and Study Abroad Centre, and Janelle Pewapsconias who works part-time in the Aboriginal Student Centre, travelled to the University of Arizona to share what they have learned about Building Bridges, the cultural understanding program they started last year.

"Our aim is to inspire other colleges and universities to look into our model," said Pewapsconias of the presentation. "We also want to share some of our special successes."

Building Bridges creates opportunities through workshops and social events for students to come together to share their stories and perspectives, and to begin conversations, explained Bentham. "What we've done is created a respectful space to share those stories."

The program, said Pewapsconias, brings together people "who would never have met in other social situations. They got to hear other perspectives, issues and values, and to share their own. I think the students were a bit more proud of who they are and were happy to share what they know about their own culture."

This year's Building Bridges program started with a Sept. 28 bus tour of the city for new-to-Saskatoon international and Aboriginal students. The tour highlighted support services and included a visit to the Prairie Prism Festival and the Saskatoon Forestry Farm and Zoo. Throughout the academic year, Bentham and Pewapsconias will be organizing workshops with guest speakers and student-led sharing circles open to everyone and offered free of charge.

Bentham said about 380 students participated in various Building Bridges events last year.

Pewapsconias said she believes everyone involved in Building Bridges gains a better understanding of "the complexities of identities within the Aboriginal culture" and feels more welcome at the U of S for having a chance to share personal experiences.

"Our smaller goal," added Bentham, "is to contribute to some form of reconciliation" by helping students overcome what she termed "the cultural iceberg. When you're thinking about multiculturalism, often all you see is peoples' dance, people's culture, peoples' food. By sharing historical facts and issues, you come to realize Canada has a bit of a messy history."

Share this story