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SIFC becomes First Nations University of Canada


Matt Ross, Windspeaker Contributor, Regina







Page 22

More than 2,000 people gathered on June 21 to help the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) celebrate its new campus and new identity.

The SIFC, which has been providing post-secondary education to students for the past 27 years, is now the First Nations University of Canada. The name change was timed to coincide with the official opening of the school's new Regina campus, and makes the First Nations-run institute the only one of its kind in North America.

Vikas Khaladkar is chair of the university's project management team, and was also the school's acting dean of academics for two years. He said students who enter First Nations University will not only get a world-class education, but will be treated more holistically than if they choose to attend elsewhere.

"Besides the academics, we try to maximize the success that is culturally consistent in keeping with the ways of the Elders," said Khaladkar, who's been involved with the school for more than 20 years.

Since 1976 when SIFC opened with seven students, the school has been affiliated with the University of Regina, and that relationship will continue following the college's metamorphosis into a university. During those 27 years, more than 2,000 students at SIFC have graduated with degrees, diplomas and certificates.

Currently, the school has more than 500 full-time students and 1,000 part-time students enrolled in Regina, with another 500 students attending at the school's other campuses in Saskatoon and Prince Albert. Though the enrolment continues to rise, the concept of keeping a low student-to-teacher ratio remains key, Khaladkar explained, adding that there is a closer relationship between the faculty and students at this school than there is at other universities.

Prior to the opening of the new campus, SIFC operations in Regina were scattered throughout seven locations in the city. Creation of the new campus in Regina has been more than a decade in the making.

Because students are required to attend classes at the U of R in conjunction with their courses at the First Nations University, the school won't be producing graduates who have been insulated from non-Native education, Khaladkar said, adding that the staff also teaches at both campuses.

"There is a joint set of standards as far as what's taught in the classroom, and the academic credentials of our faculty are also the same as the staff at the University of Regina. Teachers here will teach there and must meet that bar."

Among those attending the unveiling of the university was Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He expressed excitement about what the school means to First Nations people across the country.

"Education is a way to get out of our poverty and give our young people a choice," Coon Come said. "This university is First Nations controlled, that's the difference, with its board of directors who are First Nations leaders."

One of the last dignitaries to speak was the school's president, Dr. Eber Hampton. With his heart "full of pride and joy", he said that this day was important not only for First Nations, but for all people, the province of Saskatchewan and Canada as a whole. Hampton also recognized the school's past by acknowledging the institution's previous incarnation, specifically singling out one word from the name the school had operated under for over a quarter of a century.

"Federated in the literal translation is to accompany and invite our siblings to accomplish something," Hampton said. "Today we can say we did this ourselves and nobody did this for us."