Open Mike - February 2012

University of Lethbridge President Dr. Mike Mahon chats about what's happening in the University community

It has often occurred to me how fortunate we are to have a campus so deeply connected to the Blackfoot Nation and the rich Aboriginal culture of southern Alberta.

It is a heritage we both respect and celebrate, and one that has played and will continue to play a key role in shaping the strategic priorities of the institution as we move forward.

Just recently, the University announced an exciting collaboration with the Métis Nation of Alberta, creating a $1 million endowment fund for students of Métis heritage. With close to 100 Métis students currently enrolled at the University, this fund will not only support those already on campus, but it will encourage future generations of Métis students to pursue post-secondary education.

Mike Mahon
Creating an inclusive campus that is open to exploring and celebrating its Aboriginal heritage is a goal we should all share.

This week, another major announcement in support of our First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) students is forthcoming.

This has long been a priority of the University of Lethbridge, and as we look forward, it is essential we create a campus wide framework for recruiting and supporting Blackfoot and FNMI students.

The U of L can be proud of the fact it established the first Department of Native American Studies in the country, and that we have initiated the Niitsatapi First Nations program in education, the First Nations Governance Program in management and the First Nations Transitions Program in arts & science. It is now time to harness that energy and develop an overarching strategy that creates support for FNMI students, faculty, staff and community members.

Dr. Leroy Little Bear and Dr. Jane O'Dea, with support from Roy Weaselfat of Red Crow College, have been exploring that model. They have been talking to people across campus about what support systems for our FNMI population need further expansion with the goal of making the U of L a highly inclusive and highly welcoming campus.

We also want to create an environment across the university that understands the importance a supportive atmosphere can play in the lives of faculty, staff and students.

A report about their findings is forthcoming, and I anticipate one of the recommendations to be the establishment of a centre grounded in the ideals and values of the Blackfoot Nation. This centre would come with significant support and guidance from Blackfoot elders, and its vision would be integrated into the next Strategic Plan as it is developed over the coming months.

This is a responsibility that the University takes very seriously. We are a community leader, and it is important we accept our role as such. It is one of the reasons we so willingly co-sponsored the recent Diversity Lethbridge conference, to not only push the ideal of a welcoming on campus environment, but to extend that thinking to the community as a whole.

With Native Awareness Week on the horizon, I encourage you to take some time to explore this rich heritage and understand the role we can all play in creating a campus atmosphere that both encourages FNMI students to come to the University of Lethbridge and supports their academic pursuits while they are here. Such is an environment that benefits us all.

This column first appeared in the February 2012 edition of The Legend. To view the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.