February 17, 2023
I cannot believe that so many months have flown by since I began on September 7th, 2021. During this past year I’ve been asked many times about the transition from a mainstream university to one whose foundation is Indigenous Knowledge Systems. My answer remains consistent: I am in the right place at the right time. I have committed my energy, formed networks, and brought experience from previous school systems and post-secondary institutions (practical, theoretical, research-wise) to the growth of FNUniv And, after these past many months, I continue to see the tremendous value this institution has in the Provincial, National, and International landscape. First Nations University of Canada is Indigenous-owned and operated and centres Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing like no other member universities of Universities Canada. Because of our uniqueness, the heightened obligation to the TRC Calls to Action, UNDRIP, and now the NIS (National Indigenous Economic Strategy) Calls to Action, The First Nations University of Canada has been recognized by all levels of government, leaders from a variety of sectors, organizations, and private citizens. With this comes accountability and responsibility.
The rapid growth, overwhelming opportunities, and structural change that some units have experienced over the last year has been welcomed, exciting, and affirming for many. These feelings have sometimes been accompanied with uncertainty as the norm (“the way we do things around here”) and the familiar make way for the new (e.g., innovation, systems, units, initiatives, partnerships, and collaborations), and the old (deeper forms, intentional, pervasive, and evident weaving of Indigenous knowledge systems in all we do) to coexist.
This annual report will provide a picture of this past year. A significant shift happened when pandemic restrictions eased, then were lifted. Many are still transitioning from studying, working, and meeting in virtual spaces. Our campuses are, once again, filled with students’ energy, and for this I am grateful. We welcomed two new units – the Indigenous Continuing Education Centre and University Relations. Work in these units have expanded our external reach and will provide FNUniv with essential revenues as they gain momentum. We will continue to ensure that Indigenous Knowledge Systems – ways of being (ontologies), knowing (epistemologies), and doing (practices) – are evident in all we do and to provide us with programmatic guidance; we welcomed Elder Maria Campbell. We are very fortunate to have an esteemed literary author, and previous FNUniv employee, join us on our journey. This past year, our focus on health and wellness continues to be strengthened. Along with academic and continuing education, wellness programming, forums, workshops, and training will be ongoing as mental health has been impacted during the pandemic. On the facilities front, we continue to strive for a new Northern Campus, work at fully moving into the Saskatoon Campus, and being creative in accommodating new staff and students in the Regina Campus.
Our research unit will be growing beyond our relationship with the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre as an Indigenous Ethics Board has been planned for and will soon be established. FNUniv received recognition in numerous ways: being identified as the location where the National Indigenous Economic Institute will be housed; granting of significant funds to host a Cree Cultural Immersion Camp next summer (2023) and develop a National Indigenous Immersion Language Educators Collective; securing additional student scholarships; promotion at the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education (WIPCE) in Adelaide, Australia; progress and signing of Memorandums of Understanding with universities in South America, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand, etc.; establishing academic programming across Canada; hosting the National Forum on Indigenous Identity in March, 2022, and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada in July, 2022. I know that I’ve missed many noteworthy events, awards, and accomplishments.
This past year, we hosted 4 graduation celebrations (2020, 2021, 2022), and this year we honoured 222 graduates. I would like to congratulate all these students and those who are continuing to focus on their studies, especially as extraordinary circumstances continue globally on various fronts. We have many amazing students. Let’s seek, listen, and learn from the many stories of perseverance (akim mayn-no-mo-win), strength (musk-cow-zee-win), courage (ahp-meat-a-mund- gay-go), generosity (min-ut-tow-win), and love (zu-waan-do-win).
My focus throughout the past year has been on getting to know every aspect of The First Nations University of Canada, so I/we can make decisions that will ensure that this ‘legacy’ institution moves into the future in strong ways. The FNUniv strategic plan ôtê nîkân “in the future”, alongside with highlighting the importance of the kêhtê-ayak, emphasizes students and FNUniv’s unique Indigenous Identity. This is what I’ve been reminding our internal community and sharing with the world. Finally, the work on academic autonomy continues. This is a huge and complex ‘project’ but one that we’re more than ready for – it has been envisioned to be our destiny by First Nations leadership and Elders from our past.
During the presidential installation, I talked about the importance of legacy. Whether we are aware of it, we are all in the process of legacy building. We have a choice in the kind of legacy we work towards every moment and every day. Join me in building and leaving the legacy of an exceptional Indigenous University for our current students and those children not yet born seven generations into the future.
Gitchi-miigwetch to the Board of Governors, Student Associations, Staff, Faculty, kêhtê-ayak, and our many allies and supporters for ensuring that FNUniv withstands storms, remains steadfast in its vision, mission, and mandate, and continues to take account and celebrate the many small and large successes.
I also want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Vice-President Academic Dr. Bob Kayseas for carrying out the presidential responsibilities, on an interim basis, during the brunt of the pandemic. Dr. Kayseas led the university through a very challenging time, and we are emerging transformed. Your long-term enduring commitment and dedication to FNUniv are truly appreciated, Bob.
ni-gichi naennimak ni-tiniwaymahgunuk / In honour of all my relatives.
Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann