An overhead shot of the opening ceremony (photo by David Stobbe).

U of S celebrates historic opening of new student centre

SASKATOON - As the doors of the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre officially opened today, a decade-long chapter of planning, designing and construction closed at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

The grand opening brought dignitaries and Aboriginal leaders to the U of S campus, including National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, Perry Bellegarde, as well as members of the Oakes family after which the centre is named. The celebrations included an intimate pipe ceremony and a performance by Juno award-winning musician Susan Aglukark, along with a number of speakers.

"I welcome the opening of the centre as it sends a strong signal of openness and support to Aboriginal students," said Chancellor Blaine Favel, a graduate of the U of S Indian Teacher Education Program. "I believe it will enrich their individual student experience and also contribute to a broader campus-wide reconciliation with First Nations and Métis people. The passion of the late Gordon Oakes was that First Nations people retain their distinctiveness in languages and spirituality, I believe he would be humbled by this honour but pleased that the U of S is making such a strong commitment to his vision. He was a beloved man, with a timeless message of hope and optimism that First Nations and Canadians can co-exist in harmony and prosper together."

According to Statistics Canada, in the next two decades, one in five people in Saskatchewan will be First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

U of S President Peter Stoicheff said this centre is part of the momentum "building across Canada to help fundamentally alter and improve the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Educational institutions such as the U of S have a significant role to play in this, and this new centre will demonstrate in a very real way to current and potential Aboriginal students that they are welcome here—that this is their campus, too."

"Health, happiness and prosperity are universal goals, and education is key to achieving them," said Stoicheff. "In the fall, the U of S, along with all other post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan, committed to working together to close the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. We must act on the educational disparities that exist in our society, and the activity that goes on as a part of the life of this centre will be one of our main ways of doing this."

The centre is designed to be an inclusive, welcoming gathering place for everyone on campus and is the new home of the Aboriginal Students' Centre, which offers supports to encourage the personal and academic success of students.

"I think that this is the most heartwarming thing to see; that the student body as a whole wants to see this happen," said Jack Saddleback, president of the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union, and member of the Samson Cree Nation. "We're showcasing the history of this land, we're showcasing the people who have been here for generations and we're also giving hope to those generations to come where they are going to see themselves in these academies. They are going to see themselves in universities and they are going to feel that much more confident in coming here compared to years before."

"Gordon Oakes built bridges between cultures throughout his distinguished career as a leader," said Scott Moe, Saskatchewan minister of advanced education. "I'm confident the student centre that bears his name will continue that great tradition of respect and inclusion."

To celebrate the opening of the centre, the U of S is hosting a series of events from Feb. 3 to 5, to be followed by the university's annual Aboriginal Achievement Week from Feb. 8 to 12.

Pictures of today's grand opening will be uploaded to the university's Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre photo album.


For more information, contact:
Meghan Sired
Communications Co-ordinator
University of Saskatchewan
306-966-6068 (office)
306-381-7992 (cell)

James Shewaga
Media Relations Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
306-966-1851 (office)


University of Saskatchewan

Established in 1907, the University of Saskatchewan has a long history of excellence. We are a member of the U15 group of Canada's top research-intensive universities, offering unique facilities such as the Canadian Light Source, VIDO-InterVac and the Global Institute for Water Security. The university is committed to First Nations, Métis and Inuit student success and to welcoming diverse perspectives and ways of knowing, both from across Saskatchewan and around the world. Our graduates are known for their work ethic, resourceful nature and determination, and will continue to build on our history of success to address the world's challenges now and in the future. 

Gordon Oakes Red Bear

Gordon Oakes Red Bear was a spiritual and community leader who guided many in his community and across Saskatchewan. He was born in 1932 in what is now the Nekaneet First Nation and passed away in early 2002. Oakes believed in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples working together for each other's mutual benefit, using the analogy of a team of horses pulling together and living in balance to impart this teaching. Because he held a strong belief in education and honouring one's culture and traditions, this building is named in his memory.

Gordon Oakes Red Bear served as the Chief of the Nekaneet First Nation from 1958 to 1962 and again from 1970 to 1992. Throughout this time he worked passionately for Treaty Land Entitlement until it was finally adopted by the province. Oakes also sat at the Treaty Tables within the Treaty Governance Processes of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. He created the Treaty 4 flag, which is now used by Treaty 4 First Nations as a symbol of connectedness. In all of this work, he helped shape the understanding of the treaty relationship as it exists in Saskatchewan.

As an elder, Gordon Oakes served as a board member of the Wanuskewin Heritage Park. Through his work he also helped bring to fruition the eventual placement of the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in the Cypress Hills. 

Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre

The Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. The centre began with a vision that all students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, will benefit by connecting with different cultures, belief systems and ways of learning.

With a focus on student success, the centre is an inclusive, welcoming place that facilitates meaningful engagement and collaboration with the province's Aboriginal communities and cultures and will proudly honour its namesake, Gordon Oakes Red Bear.

The centre houses the Aboriginal Students' Centre to promote the personal and academic success of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, facilitates the co-ordination and communication of Aboriginal initiatives throughout the university, and contains space for Aboriginal undergraduate and graduate student leadership.

The design for the centre was envisioned by Douglas Cardinal and RBM Architects. Cardinal is an internationally renowned architect of Métis and Blackfoot ancestry. He is an advocate of sustainability, green buildings and ecological design in community planning. Cardinal has designed a number of notable buildings including the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the First Nations University of Canada and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

Tyndall stone wraps around the building, creating a blanket to protect the building's centre from the harsh Prairie winds. Two rows of tile encircle the building, representing the wampum belt and one of the first treaties between First Nations and newcomers on the land that would later become Canada. At each of the four cardinal directions, the colour of the beads changes to represent the four seasons: south (summer, red), east (spring, yellow), west (charcoal, fall) and north (winter, white).

At the entrance to the building, there is a feature wall composed of wood recovered from the construction site of the building.

For ceremonial purposes, the central gathering area rests atop a cylinder of original earth from the area. When standing in the centre of the building, it is possible to see outside in all four directions, and the smoke created during ceremony is expelled from the top of the building simultaneously in the four directions. The ceiling is decorated as a medicine wheel, using colours chosen by the Oakes family. The feature skylight of the building at the centre of the medicine wheel is inspired by the design of a star blanket.


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