For 40 years the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) has been a fixture at the University of Regina. Its gone through a lot since then, through several iterations, and Blair Stonechild has been there to see them all.
Stonechild was the first professor hired to the university, then called the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.
He said he’d never even dreamed about being a professor, but the founder of the college knew about his efforts to restore indigenous controlled education.
“She said ‘come and teach a class’. Didn’t say anything about a university, but said ‘teach a class.’ I said yes.”
Through building changes and name changes, Stonechild has continued teaching at the FNUniv, and he describes the building and students now as wonderful.
“I remember when I first started teaching there was maybe three or four books that you could use, now there’s hundreds of them.”
When Stonechild was a student getting his undergraduate degree at McGill University, he said his professors didn’t know much about indigenous studies or things like treaties.
“The government was not really encouraging anybody to know about treaties, they were considered to be artifacts – irrelevant documents – but to us these were so foundational.”
The first class he taught was Indigenous Studies 100, and now he teaches history and indigenous spirituality.
Stonechild said it’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years, but the proof is in the differences he sees and the results the university is producing. He said it’s still important for the FNUniv to exist.
“We have a very unique culture. These are our lands, this is where our culture is grounded. I think that for all Canadians it’s important to understand where we come from, it’s also important to know that there are other value systems.”
At anniversary celebrations on Monday, the administration of the school was proud of how far it’s come.
“From our start where we had a few classrooms and perhaps a trailer or two, and now we look around at this beautifully designed building by Douglas Cardinal, and we look at how much we’ve been able to accomplish in those forty years. As everybody said, well just imagine starting from nothing and getting to here – starting now and our next forty years imagine where we’re going to go from there,” said Mark Dockstater, president of the FNUniv.
Dockstater said they’re trying to continue the original vision of the elders, that the school should be a beacon for everyone of what indigenous education should look like.
The school is looking to the future, as it announced a new project on Monday.