Education for Everyone

David Stobbe / stobbephoto.ca

New Alumni Dakota Norris and Current ABAC student Courtney Albert. Photo by Dawn Stranden Photography.

As the number of Indigenous students in post-secondary education grows in Saskatchewan, we reached out to several post-secondary institutions in the province to see how Indigenous students are supported during their journey through education and into a career.

Vanessa Leon – Undergraduate Recruitment & Programs Advisor, Edwards School of Business

Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan offers certificate, undergraduate and graduate level business studies, including the Aboriginal Business Administration Certificate (ABAC). “We also work very closely with the business community through our Executive Education team by providing training and professional development opportunities,” says Leon. “And we have a transfer agreement partnership with both SIIT and Saskatchewan Polytechnic.”

For Indigenous students, Edwards offers a program tailored to their needs. “Enrolment in the ABAC program is exclusive to Indigenous students,” says Leon. “The certificate program is designed to be a pathway into the Bachelor of Commerce.” Students can start in ABAC and then build into the Bachelor of Commerce to complete the full degree if they desire.

“We work closely with Indigenous students transferring into the Bachelor of Commerce program to ensure their success and feel like they are part of the Edwards community,” says Leon. Edwards is involved in the community with high school students through entrepreneurship programs. “We are excited to build upon our partnership with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program to support the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Leon. Edwards is also in the process of developing a strategic enrolment plan specifically for Indigenous students. In just the past year, the school has increased their Indigenous student population to 10 per cent overall. “We’re hoping to build on that and we’re leaning on our transfer agreement with SIIT, while also recruiting high school students,” says Leon.

No matter the student or the program they are enrolled in, the focus is on experiential learning. All Edwards students who participate in the Bachelor of Commerce are getting real, current business experience. “Not only are they coming well-prepared academically, but they’re also going to have practical skills that they’ve been applying into the real world,” says Leon. “They can apply right away into the workplace as well.” Edwards is committed to preparing students with dedicated career services in the school, so students are prepared on both fronts academically and practically for the workplace. The commitment has paid off, with a high employment rate upon graduation. In 2018, 89.9 per cent of graduates were employed in their specific field after they completed their four-year degree. “We’re one of Canada’s oldest business schools. Our program is AACSB accredited, which means no matter where you go, your degree is recognized around the world,” says Leon.

Brendon Demarais, Self-Employment Services Manager – Entrepreneurship Program, Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI)

Through GDI’s Pathways to Entrepreneurship program, there are many different supports for Métis entrepreneurs. The training is designed for existing business owners or people who are just starting a journey of entrepreneurship. “The training categories are fairly open. We can help clients with entrepreneurship-type training through the Praxis School for Entrepreneurship that GDI can fund people for,” says Demarais. “We also offer courses in things like QuickBooks training, we fund seats for digital marketing training, and any other type of entrepreneurship training that could provide value for a business owner.”

As well, there are entrepreneurs who may need industry credentials or additional training. “This might be a condition to them getting a loan or it might just bolster their skill set to help expand their business,” says Demarais. “We funded a client up north who services rural plumbing and heating sites. He got a loan to purchase an airplane to help him reach these remote communities and lodges. The barrier to him accessing additional clients was a float-plane endorsement for his aircraft. GDI was able to fund that training so to equip him with that tool and skill set, and that broadened his potential markets.” The school has a lot of flexibility with what they can fund. If it makes economic sense for a business, there’s a good chance GDI can help. GDI also knows that everybody can be a better entrepreneur if they’re equipped with the skills and tools. “For example, Kim Parent owns Saskatoon Salsa Dance company. This type of dance is quite specialized,” says Demarais. “We helped Kim with dance instruction classes and group facilitation coaching to expand her skillset, provide different dance styles and teach different classes including children.”

GDI also looks to remove barriers to access training. They can help with travel and accommodation expenses for students, including living allowances for specific situations. Their in-house workshops are also designed to help time-pressed entrepreneurs get training. “We’ve developed an entrepreneur start-up workshop with Valid Consulting Group from Edmonton, Alta,” says Demarais. GDI has had great success, training over 150 entrepreneurs and has seen many successful startups attending the workshop.”

The school also works to demystify the process of entrepreneurship. They work with students, talking about ideation, the skills and dedication needed to be successful and that it’s not all fun and games. The homework is intense as students evaluate and assess the opportunities. “We do a break-even analysis of what are the costs to start of the business, what are your variable costs, what are your fixed costs, what sales targets do you need to hit to break even and what you need to pay yourself a livable salary. We go through this process because this is what they will encounter from a lender or financier,” says Demarais.

GDI knows business planning is a key component of starting a business and they address this with their business planning program. They can consider funding costs associated with getting a consultant involved with developing a business plan. “We want to equip business owners with the skills to understand the business planning process and actually be able to implement it and use it as a guide,” says Demarais. To encourage this, GDI is offering business planning workshop series free of charge for existing Métis entrepreneurs and startups.

“Not every business owner can claim that they’re an expert from A to Z. They’re always going to need a bit of coaching,” says Demarais. “Our Pathways program clients who have completed a business plan may be authorized to utilize up to $10,000 in professional services or coaching. This can be used professional business services. Every step of the way from the idea to the launch and to growing a business, GDI is there to help Métis entrepreneurs succeed.”

Tavia Laliberte, Vice-President Academic, Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT)

SIIT is a long-standing institution in the province, founded in 1976. “We have a provincial mandate and a provincial footprint. We serve communities right across the province,” says Laliberte. “Some of our programming has been attracted students from outside of our province. We’ve delivered programming right across the country in niche program delivery areas that we’ve created.” Serving about 2,500 students per year, the broad range of programming offered by SIIT has its foundation in preparing clients for work and careers in many fields. “We go to where our clients are and that can literally mean right into communities,” says Laliberte. “We have an RV bus we use as a mobile job unit and it travels all year, mostly to First Nations communities.” SIIT does outreach and engagement with community members who are either seeking employment or just interested in learning where to get started.

SIIT offers short certificate programs for self-exploration and to prepare students for education or work. There are also highly technical skilled offerings such as the flagship aircraft maintenance program. “It’s the only one in the province,” says Laliberte. “If you want to work in aircraft maintenance, you have to attend SIIT.” The school’s business diploma program links with the province’s two universities. “Students can take their first two years with us and then go onto doing a commerce or business degree with the University of Saskatchewan or the University of Regina.”

This fall, SIIT will also launch its Indigenous Practical Nurse program. SIIT has delivered practical nursing in the past and put the program on hiatus for a few years. “With the Calls to Action through the Truth and Reconciliation commission, there was clear need for Indigenous health care practitioners,” says Laliberte. “This prompted SIIT to develop a Practical Nurse program. It marries Indigenous pedagogy and health practices with Western medicine. It has a strong technology component using augmented reality (AR).”

90 per cent of SIIT students are Indigenous learners. SIIT students have tended to be older than the typical post-secondary student, but that is often program and location dependent. “We’re starting to see younger Indigenous applicants, particularly in urban areas,” says Laliberte. “They’re coming better prepared to be successful in post-secondary education and the labour market.”

SIIT uses labour market information to identify what businesses need for workers now and in the future. The school also looks at what is offered by other institutions, to ensure there is no unnecessary duplication. “We have a few different areas where we see some strong success. We’re quite known for our trades training and we’ve worked significantly with industries related to the trades,” says Laliberte. “In construction, for example, SIIT has a large footprint with providing skilled labour. Our business program has also been well established. It’s a general business program so students can work in many business fields and in community economic development.”

With its career centres that are strategically located right across the province, SIIT is ready to work with business and industry. “There’s seven of them and they’re a good access point for industry to be engaged with SIIT,” says Laliberte. “There’s so many levels in terms of ways to engage. For example, if you’re interested in hiring skilled labour, most businesses are just looking for skilled labour, the career centres are a good way to engage with Indigenous labourers.” SIIT is also interested in promoting engagement around scholarships and bursaries and increasing work-integrated learning experiences for students. “Work experience is a great way for industry to have a first initial relationship with SIIT. Often, it’s from these small investment relationships that we find other ways to leverage each other and relationships grow. SIIT is open for business, and this is key to our success.”

Dr. Larry Rosia, President, Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Saskatchewan Polytechnic has embraced Indigenization throughout the last two decades, with many initiatives in place at all its campuses. “Indigenous students and Indigenous employees are an important part of our campus communities. Guided by the principles of reconciliation, we continue to improve and support opportunities to holistically integrate ways of knowing, teaching, and learning into our practices, procedures and the services that we offer,” says Rosia. The institution has developed several Indigenous Student Success Strategy Plans over the decades, the latest of which was unveiled this past year, all toward the organization increasing recruitment, retention, and graduation rates, and in support of the overall success of Indigenous students studying at Sask Polytech across all programs. Sask Polytech knows that Indigenous students need to feel welcome and inspired and empowered, and the Indigenous Student Success Strategy Plan is designed to address that.

3rd Year student Hunter McLean in the Moeller Resource Room, Sask Polytech

“We continue to make significant effort to attract and retain Indigenous students. We provide an Indigenous Awareness Training Course that is mandatory for all employees in our organization, to ensure that we’re able to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for our Indigenous colleagues,” says Rosia. Each fall, Sask Polytech holds an Indigenous gathering to bring Indigenous employees together to experience support and encourage cultural connections within our institution. They’ve also implemented a new academic model that includes Indigenization of the curriculum, with a goal that by 2023 they will include Indigenous content in all programming.

Their current Indigenous Student Success Strategy was developed to provide Indigenous students with a variety of services to enhance their experience while they are studying and to remove barriers to success. “It’s one thing to attract students but the real measure is their success,” says Rosia. “We offer opportunities like our summer transition program where students who are new to the city or to the organization can be supported and receive specific training as they transition to post-secondary education, and new environments. We ensure our students have access to Indigenous Student Centres and Elders at each campus.” Sask Polytech also has Indigenous Student Advisors who focus on building relationships and supporting our Indigenous students, and offers financial support through several scholarships and bursaries.

The work is paying off at Sask Polytech. They are seeing Indigenous graduation rates continue to increase and improve. “Many people don’t know that we have more Indigenous students obtaining education with us than any other post-secondary institution in the province. About 19 per cent of our student population identifies themselves as Indigenous (during the 2017/18 academic year),” says Rosia. “Our Indigenous graduation rate has been on the rise as well, and it sits at 60 percent right now. This is something we’re very proud of as it’s improved by 10 percent over the past five years.” The numbers are important because they are the markers of student success. 88 per cent of Sask Polytech’s Indigenous graduates found employment after leaving their studies—only a four per cent difference from their non-Indigenous graduates.

Sask Polytech is also dedicated to their engagement with the business community, and have created a new learning opportunity for their industry partners. “I would encourage Saskatchewan employers to take our Indigenous Studies Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). This course explores key issues facing Indigenous peoples today from a historical and political perspective,” says Rosia. The course is free for anyone over the age of 13 to take and introduces the diverse Indigenous culture group within Saskatchewan. The course launched in June and within the first week, saw over 1,600 signups. “This MOOC is open to anyone with access to a computer or a mobile devise and the internet,” says Rosia. “The course was made initially for faculty that wanted to include Indigenous content in their curriculum.”

“Our Indigenous students graduate and play an important role in Saskatchewan’s economy,” says Rosia. “Businesses support our students with work-integrated learning opportunities and hire them when they graduate. The province’s business community also supports Sask Polytech’s Indigenous students by funding many of our Indigenous scholarships and student awards.” 10 years ago, their Indigenous scholarships and awards were worth around $10,000. By the 2017/18 school year, those same scholarships and bursaries grew to nearly half a million dollars.

“We see diversity as one of our strengths, and as an educator we have a role to play in making sure that people understand and value diversity,” says Rosia. “We very firmly believe that the challenges of today and tomorrow will be solved by interdisciplinary and intercultural type solutions.”

Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann, Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement, University of Saskatchewan

The University of Saskatchewan has many Indigenous education initiatives that support Indigenous students, faculty and staff. As well, the school is drawing Indigenous leadership from the community, including Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers to help inform the process and to ensure that they are moving through these initiatives and strategies in a respectful way. Ottmann has been in her role as Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement (VPIE) since October 2017. This portfolio is still fairly new for the university and it is groundbreaking because many universities across the nation do not have or may not have offices like this. The new VPIE office is mandated to have positive impact and challenge systemic structures that impede Indigenization and reconciliation. The VPIE office is expected to have comprehensive influence; everything from procurement to lands through to teaching and learning.

Head Dancer Elder Roland Duquette (Skywalker), Dr. Louise Halfe, Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann (Ovpie), Head Dancer Khoniss Wuttnnee

“As soon as I began at the university, I was involved in the University Plan 2025,” says Ottmann. “The plan is unique, and foundational to the University. All 17 colleges and schools are responsive to this document and we are all accountable to it. What makes it different is not only how it looks, but how involved and engaged the Indigenous community was in its development. It has a Cree name nīkānītān manācihitowinihk ni manachīhitoonaan, meaning ‘Let us lead with respect’.”

This plan is meaningful for the university as a whole and provides guidance in terms of how the university relates to Indigenous peoples and how policies and programming are developed to support Indigenous students, faculty and staff. “We have one of the largest Indigenous populations of any U15 school in Canada,” says Ottmann. “According to our 2017 statistics, we had 3,119 Indigenous students on campus and that number rose to approximately 3,400 in 2018. We also have approximately 40 Indigenous faculty, 12 Indigenous sessional lecturers, and 165 Indigenous staff. This is fairly significant, and we are working on growing these numbers.”

The university sees respectful and rightful relationships supporting the university community and society, particularly as they move through some challenging issues that work as barriers to educational success. Indigenization within the University 2025 plan is one of the core pillars. And, within that, there are also three goals that directly focus on Indigenous topics and initiatives. “The first is uplifting Indigenization and Indigenous peoples, knowledges, cultures, traditions, practices, protocols and moving Indigenous peoples from the outer edges into a rightful and respectful place within the centre of our community,” says Ottmann. “The second goal is experiencing reconciliation. Many of us are beginning to understand what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action are and why they are so important, and organizations are learning how to be responsive to the Calls in meaningful ways. Finally, the third goal is embracing manachīhitoonaan, which means respect.”

The University of Saskatchewan also recognizes that the province has a rapidly growing Indigenous population, with most of that population is still under the age of 25. “There is an opportunity to embrace and support Indigenous youth through education—elementary, high school, post-secondary, trades schools—and by doing so our economy and society will benefit,” says Ottmann. “The province will benefit as our Indigenous youth, not only graduate from high school, but graduate from trades and post-secondary institutions to become active within and contribute to the economy in various ways. Research shows that quality of life increases along with educational accomplishments.” To support students for the workforce, the colleges and schools at the University of Saskatchewan do several things, such as job fairs and internships. Some students are also engaged in research, and network in communities as they explore the opportunities available to them upon graduation. “Finally, successful Indigenous role models are important,” says Ottmann. “I hope that my being in a senior level position will encourage Indigenous youth to aspire to leadership positions in any organization.”