Humble Beginnings: How SIFC became a home for Indigenous Knowledge

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It all started 40 years ago when Ida Wasacase, the first President of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, started the Teacher’s Education Project in May, 1976. Soon, that lead to the opening of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) itself, after 30 years of planning and organizing.

What motivated First Nations people to create this facility?

Tony Cote, David Ahenakew, and a few others worked together for many years to start the university. They wanted their vision of a school made by First Nations people for First Nations people to become a reality.

About 9 years before SIFC officially opened, the Residential School system was being slowly phased out. Opening SIFC was a way to fulfil the goal of ‘Indian Control of Indian Education’ and prove to the country that First Nations people could work independently to educate their people with the help culture, ceremony, and elders on campus.

Blaire Stonechild was the Executive Director of Planning and Development at the time. He is also still a professor in Indigenous Studies at FNUniv.

“I think from the Indigenous point of view, it’s important to have an even broader perception of life, and so we try to do that here,” said Blair. “In doing that, we encourage youth to be in touch with their identity.”

The executive was determined to bring back what was lost to First Nations people in Residential schools, and this is why ceremony and Elders on campus were so critical piece.

Having the comfort of the traditions, practices as part of the educational setting, brought a lot of people together and also give educators and staff the opportunity to teach non-Aboriginal people the ways of the First Nations.

The ceremonies are important because they create a safe space for all students to have a healthy relationship with academia. As well, the energy brought by the ceremonies creates motivation for the students to see the bigger picture in life and help manage their own struggles.

Decades in the making, only one elder from the original committee, Tony Cote, is alive today to see the dream of First Nations University of Canada become a reality. Cote is one of the founding members of FNUniv, and has worked at the university and is also well-respected Elder and veteran in the larger Saskatchewan community today.

After 40 years, from being housed in College West at the University of Regina to the beautiful building and campus today, FNUniv continues to change the lives of the First Nations people and give them opportunities their ancestors worked so hard for them to have.

by Morgan Esperance