Saskatoon

More than 200 people sign letter demanding changes to University of Saskatchewan education college

More than 200 people have signed an open letter demanding more respect for Indigenous knowledge and faculty in the University of Saskatchewan's college of education.

U of S president Peter Stoicheff says he wants to discuss concerns but stands by college leadership

More than 200 people have signed an open letter demanding the University of Saskatchewan's college of education show more respect for Indigenous knowledge and faculty. (Jason Warick/CBC)

More than 200 people have signed an open letter demanding more respect for Indigenous knowledge and faculty in the University of Saskatchewan's college of education.

The letter follows revelations that at least nine Indigenous faculty, as well as other senior Indigenous staff, have recently departed the U of S in frustration.

U of S president Peter Stoicheff declined an interview, but said in an email he stands by college leadership. Stoicheff says Indigenous education remains a top priority.

The letter, signed by current and former faculty, alumni and others, says the U of S college of education has historically been a leader in First Nations and Métis education, but that things are going backward. It refers to a "toxic culture" and "climate of fear" inside the college.

It says Indigenous faculty who left, and many of those who remain, "did not feel supported and were fearful of speaking out against the present administration's harmful attitude, policies and practices."

It says Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who spoke out were "targeted." It also accused U of S administrators of "exploiting Indigenous education by using it for public recognition while scaling back on necessary resources."

It demands the removal of top administrators and for Stoicheff to commit to reforms.

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"We were moving in the right direction, but all of that has shifted and changed," college of education graduate and former sessional lecturer Sheelah McLean said.

"They're trying to turn back the clock to the 1950s. It's a colonial model."

McLean and others said the biggest worry is how it will affect teacher education, which will ultimately affect the quality of education across the province.

Saskatoon high school teacher Chelsea Davis says it was 'incredibly disheartening' to learn of the lack of respect for Indigenous knowledge and faculty at the University of Saskatchewan's college of education. (Submitted by Chelsea Davis)

"This is all so disheartening," said Chelsea Davis, a Saskatoon teacher and co-chair of a Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation anti-racism committee.

Saskatoon teacher and writer Khodi Dill, who also signed the letter, said his graduate studies at the U of S educated him about anti-Indigenous racism. He said it helped him find his place as a Black man on Treaty Six territory. He said it's critical for the college to respect these Indigenous voices.

"Now is the time to carve out more spaces for critical thinking in our institutions, not to diminish those spaces and the voices who hold them so bravely," Dhill said.

Educator Khodi Dill says his graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan educated him about anti-Indigenous racism. He said it's critical for the college to respect these voices. (Submitted by Khodi Dill)

Those interviewed said Stoicheff has been told repeatedly about the concerns but has not acted.

The sentiments expressed in the letter are not unanimous. Adrienne Schenk, a Prince Albert teacher who obtained a masters degree in education from the U of S, said she saw administrators and faculty who were progressive thinkers on all fronts, including Indigenous education.

Schenk, who identifies as lesbian and Black, said she wonders if all those who signed actually know what's happening in the college.

"We need to make sure we have both sides of the story," Schenk said.

Prince Albert teacher Adrienne Schenk, who obtained a masters degree from the U of S, disagrees with the sentiments expressed in the letter. She says college of education administrators did a good job of encouraging progressive views, including Indigenous voices. (Submitted by Adrienne Schenk)

In his written statement, Stoicheff said the college is a national leader in Indigenous education thanks to past and present faculty and staff and the dean.

"We acknowledge that in times of change, not everyone will agree with decisions that are made. We take all concerns very seriously, and will continue our discussions with Indigenous faculty members and college administration this week to better understand any issues or challenges," Stoicheff said.

"While these conversations are difficult, I believe there is no better place to have them than at USask."

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