The University of Lethbridge (U of L) says a positive trend has been developing in the number of Indigenous students earning post-graduate degrees. There will be a record 99 Indigenous grads crossing the stage at the 2021/22 convocation ceremony, according to a news release from the university.
“I’ve always had a passion for our young people to grow and find success,” says Chancellor Charles Weaselhead, who will be presiding over the final convocation ceremonies of his term this week. “I never considered myself a formal role model, but I think being named chancellor, it probably opened some eyes and opened up minds for our young people and our community that there is a place for them here and these positions are possible.”
The university says in recent years it has made it a strategic initiative to advance learning options and supports for Indigenous students in a variety of programs. In 1975, it established one of Canada’s first departments of Native American studies.
In 2011, Roy Weasel Fat, then Red Crow Community College vice-president (academic), along with U of L faculty members Drs. Leroy Little Bear and Jane O’Dea, created a strategy to support Indigenous students, faculty, staff and community members and brought forward seven recommendations to set a course of action.
Lindi Shade, manager of Iikaisskini Indigenous Services, says it is gratifying to see the programs working and students reaping the benefits. “It is inspiring to see our Indigenous students attend the U of L, complete degrees and go forward to serve all communities.”
“At Ikaisskini Indigenous Services we are so proud of all the Indigenous graduates at this year’s convocation, and we wish them the very best in their future careers.”
The establishment of the Iniskim Education Committee followed in 2013, and in 2014, a Memorandum of Understanding with Red Crow Community College was signed, and the Iikaisskini Student Gathering Place opened. The calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission further highlighted the need for educational institutions to develop and implement a process of truth and healing, the university says. in 2019 it appointed Weaselhead as its 14th chancellor and first of Indigenous descent. Later that year, EleV — a partnership initiative between the Blackfoot Confederacy, U of L and the Mastercard Foundation was born.
The university says it has graduated an average of 50-70 Indigenous students between spring and fall convocation ceremonies in the past decade. It adds in the last three academic years, those numbers have gone up to 87, 84 and 99 students respectively.
“When you see the number of Indigenous students who are finding success and completing their academic careers consistently increase, there is intentionality behind it,” says Dr. Mike Mahon, U of L president and vice-chancellor.