Dec 20, 2023
On November 1st and 2nd 2023, the Oẏateki Partnership held their Community of Practice Gathering at Wanuskewin for tri-partners (GDI, SIIT, and USask) to gather, network, and share their work to scale efforts to transform Indigenous education and employment in Saskatchewan. Oẏateki is a Dakota word meaning all people together and leaving no one behind, which speaks to the vision for this project. The Oẏateki partnership was launched in 2021, and this is the third year in the five-year partnership.
Both days began with a Pipe Ceremony, breakfast, and the Métis National Anthem to ensure the conference started in a good way. GDI Training & Employment staff Randi Ross and third-year carpentry apprentice Dylan Arcand presented at the World Café about the Indigenous Apprenticeship Program. Participants also asked questions about support available for students who need to complete their Grade 12 before pursuing their trade of choice. Our staff then had the opportunity to listen to our partners present on their projects, including SIIT Job Connections in Northern Saskatchewan which helps make the transition to living and working in Saskatoon easier.
In the afternoon, Elders from each tri-institution sat down with DTI Director Michelle McNally to discuss how the current challenges in Indigenous education are connected to the past. Elder Brian Gallagher spoke to a graph that the USask Indigenous Graduate Student Program had presented, showing that over 50% of Indigenous students enroll in Education compared with other majors at the university. He credited the gap to key decisions and policies that the founders of GDI and SUNTEP made to increase the number of Indigenous educators. Elder Joesph Naytowhow spoke as a survivor of residential schools about the importance of Indigenous teachers, not only working classrooms, but teaching on the land and sharing in culture outside of the educational institutions.
On day two, the Youth Advisory Council presented a panel of students from each institution to discuss what barriers or challenges they often witness Indigenous students facing on the ground. They talked about the financial pressures many faced to balance work and school. They also talked about the pressures of balancing family and school, either caring for young children or elderly relatives. Chante Speidel stated, “The definition of success needs to be changed to something more circular” to account for more than just good grades. The sentiment was echoed later in the day by students who spoke about how the Empowerment Grant helped them to overcome amazing odds to attend school, from gang violence to poverty to addictions and mental health challenges. For Indigenous students who are facing additional challenges in their lives, success means being able to give energy in all the areas of their lives that make them healthy, happy, and whole, not just their academic pursuits.
The mood leaving the conference was hopeful, joyful, and connected. The two days were spent learning from each other, sharing resources, and considering the reasons behind many of the day-to-day challenges serving students we face as an institution, infusing attendees with renewed purpose.