SENS hosts Northern Elder to foster appreciation for First Nations knowledge systems

by Meagan Hinther

Aboriginal engagement and interdisciplinary scholarship are key priority areas of the University of Saskatchewan Second Integrated Plan. Building on these pillars and strong student demand for more Aboriginal learning opportunities, the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) hosted Northern Elder-in-Residence Randall Tetlichi from Oct 21 to Nov 12, 2011. 

Tetlichi is from Old Crow, Yukon and is former chief of the Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation. He is an instructor and cultural support worker at Yukon College in Whitehorse and is highly regarded for his skills in traditional healing, communication and research methods within First Nations communities. The visit was organized by SENS and College of Education assistant professor MJ Barrett, whose own research includes a focus on Aboriginal perspectives and how to include indigenous knowledge in environmental decision-making.

“Randall’s teachings are based on learning to value the ways that First Nations people come to know and understand the environment and the world around them,” says Barrett. “He does an excellent job of creating a space where all voices are heard with equal power. His visit was a valuable experience for students, faculty and administrators to develop an understanding for how First Nations knowledge systems can inform scientific research.”

During his time at the U of S, Tetlichi gave seminars across campus and provided insights about human-animal relations from an Aboriginal perspective, Aboriginal spirituality, and traditional knowledge and the environment. Tetlichi was available throughout his visit for one-on-one discussions about any topic – from First Nations perspectives on the environment to life in the Canadian North.   

“He taught us that learning is holistic and knowledge comes from relationships, spirituality, care and respect,” says Ranjan Datta, SENS PhD student.  “Sustainability is nothing but respect for the natural law of caring for ‘everything.”

SENS hosted Tetlichi in conjunction with the U of S International Centre for Northern Governance and Development, the College of Education, the Department of Geography and Planning, and the Canadian Light Source. Based on the success of Tetlichi’s visit and high student interest, SENS is hoping to make the elder-in-residence program a bi-annual event.