CALGARY — St. Mary’s University in Calgary has officially launched its First Nations, Métis and Inuit Partnership.
Since early 2014, St. Mary’s has been working to develop the four foundational pillars for its FNMI partnership: the FNMI Advisory Council, Elders on Campus program, Scholars on Campus program, and the FNMI Liaison Specialist. St. Mary’s first-ever FNMI Liaison Specialist, Michelle Scott, along with the Advisory Council, has been critical in developing the FNMI partnership.
St. Mary’s University recognizes and honours that the land upon which it sits is traditional Blackfoot territory. The partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities has been established to help St. Mary’s University better understand how to support FNMI learners in university study.
For Scott, the March 4 launch is the beginning of doing just that. “By integrating FNMI ways of knowing and being, we will make St. Mary’s a better university for all learners. The partnership we are celebrating was built on respect, trust and a strong desire to move forward together,” she said.
With the growing number of FNMI learners at St. Mary’s, and encouragement from the wider St. Mary’s community to support the partnership, the launch of the four foundational pillars paves the way in creating a learning environment that encourages opportunity and success for FNMI students.
This launch was the first official opportunity to introduce and celebrate the four foundational pillars of the partnership. It began with a grand entry, which included president of St. Mary’s Dr. Gerry Turcotte, Deputy Mayor Shane Keating, chair of St. Mary’s Board of Governors Terry McCoy, vice-president of student services Bob Hann, Michelle Scott, Elder Casey Eagle Speaker, Elder Edmee Comstock, Associate Professor Dr. Tara Hyland-Russell, Del Majore from the Métis Nation of Alberta, and Aboriginal liaison officer for the Calgary Police Service Constable Cindy Provost, being drummed in by the Tsuu T’ina Drum Group and an opening prayer by retired Chief Roy Fox.
Representatives who were vital in the development of the program gave remarks, including Turcotte, whose successful experience working with FNMI communities in Australia was the initial inspiration for this partnership. A common message about a flourishing partnership was heard throughout everyone’s remarks and included the importance of listening, dialogue and providing an open and inclusive learning environment for all students.
Casey Eagle Speaker’s words, “education is the new buffalo,” were echoed throughout the event, emphasizing the importance of an education that focuses on the mind, body and spirit, an ideal on which St. Mary’s is based.
Dan Thorburn, vice-president, Grants & Community Initiatives, from The Calgary Foundation, was there to bring greetings on behalf of the foundation. This partnership was made possible by a significant grant from The Calgary Foundation, as well as by other generous St. Mary’s donors and supporters.
Other highlights of the launch included unveiling the new FNMI logo, remarks by Deputy Mayor Shane Keating, a traditional feast and, most notably, a Buffalo Robe transfer from Elder Casey Eagle Speaker. It is a great honour and responsibility for St. Mary’s University to be transferred a ceremonial Buffalo Robe from an elder. For the Blackfoot people, the buffalo were their way of life for thousands of years and their hides were used for many purposes, the most sacred of which was in ceremony.
St. Mary’s shared in this historic occasion with staff, faculty, students, supporters and First Nations and Métis Elders and community partners.