Indigenous Mentor

Alfred Gamble

Alfred Gamble remembers students from the University of Saskatchewan coming to Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation decades ago to perform research. But Gamble says he never saw what became of their work.

Today, he is working alongside the U of S and its School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) to ensure that future partnerships benefit his community as well.

“They were gone forever. We never saw the data. It may have been given to somebody, but it was never really shared with us. That was a concerning factor for our whole community, especially with our Elders,” Gamble said, adding that he is enthusiastic about his recent involvement.

“The whole idea now is to change that mentality, to have the university and SENS here so constantly, so ingrained within our community that it becomes natural and it becomes expected.”

Gamble is an Indigenous Mentor with SENS from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation. The position is part of an overall collaboration between the school and the community, and sees him acting as a liaison between the two as well as a bridge to help coordinate the sharing of each group’s knowledge with the other.

So far, he has been wholly impressed with the extent to which the relationship has flourished.

“It goes right to the top, to the executive director, and sharing that knowledge — filtering it down through the entire department. I’m being constantly being introduced to new faculty in other programs and initiatives, and of course to the students themselves. There’s so many students in various topics and it actually seems that every one of them is relevant to our organization in one way or another.”

The connection with SENS has spurred a number of research projects at Beardy’s and Okemasis that Gamble is proud of, including a source water protection plan, has proven to be of great interest to the community at large.

“Because of the source water protection plan, we did a community development survey and it turns out that there were about 50 action items. Within the top ten — probably within the top five — was source water. It was one of the most important issues.”

What Gamble is most happy with, however, is how the sharing of collected data is leading to real change for the people in his community.

“Just about all the research that we’ve done is an accomplishment, but what I think is even more of an accomplishment is that we don’t let these documents sit on a shelf and gather dust. We’re actually incorporating a lot of these documents in our everyday operations, and they’re influencing our judgement calls,” he said, citing how the water protection study has led to plans to eliminate a nearby lagoon this fall in order to prevent waste spillover into critical water sources.

“They’ve become almost guiding principles for us, and that has never been the case in the past.”

Recently, a commemorative event at Beardy’s and Okemasis granted Gamble the opportunity to see how the relationship between the First Nation, SENS and the U of S as a whole has helped to change lives for the better.

“We did our treaty day celebrations here, and we introduced a whole bunch of students and faculty from the university. I had them come on stage in front of the whole community and I introduced them,” he said.

“We got a big, warm applause. They were happy. It reassured us that what we’re doing here is something that I think the community recognizes as important as well.”

The relationship between SENS and his First Nation is one that Gamble is proud to say has been cemented through a band council resolution filed in Ottawa, and one that he is excited to see continue into the future.

“We’re still in our infancy stage, I believe. I plan on working with SENS forever,” he said.

“This relationship with SENS is so powerful. It filters right down to the most minute organism in the landscape and right up to the highest courts in Canada. We’re right in-between. This is how powerful this knowledge sharing is.”


From September 2012 to April 2014, SENS was pleased to welcome John Patterson as our practitioner-in-residence. Patterson has extensive experience managing environmental projects in the private sector, and with organizations such as the Canadian International Development Association and the World Bank in Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries. He was available as a resource for students to discuss project management, career planning and any other questions they may have or advice they may seek regarding the environmental profession. In addition, he also gave a two-day project management workshop in October 2012 as part of the SENS Professional Skills Certificate.

News Spotlight: SENS welcomes John Patterson

His career has taken him around the world, and now U of S alumnus John Patterson has found his way back to the University of Saskatchewan as the school’s practitioner-in-residence for the 2012/13 academic year.

With a BA from the U of S and a Master of Environmental Design from the University of Calgary, Patterson has worked for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and SNC Lavalin in environmental advisory and environmental project management roles. His résumé reads like the passport of a seasoned world traveler: Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Bhutan and Malaysia.

SENS had been considering hosting a practitioner-in-residence for some time, and when John contacted then Acting Executive Director Maureen Reed, the match seemed perfect. Given his extensive background as a project manager and as an environmental advisor, his credentials were ideal. “When I first met with John, he spoke about what he could offer to our students—such as a project management workshop and ideas about professional practice,” Dr. Reed says. “He is genuinely interested in working with young people. He fits with SENS professionally and philosophically.”

Patterson has facilitated a project management workshop for students from SENS, Geography and Planning, and Toxicology, and will assist in advising students in the Master of Sustainable Environmental Management program about professional practice as they embark on their ENVS 992 research projects.

“I enjoy the enthusiasm of ‘younger environmentalists,’” Patterson says, when asked why he has chosen to become part of the SENS community. "Through SENS, I have exposure to people who are defining and addressing environment and sustainability issues, locally and abroad.”

Perhaps Patterson’s most important role at the school will be to provide encouragement to students as they look toward their careers in the environment and sustainability sector.

“Starting your career may be frustrating as you believe you have much to offer. You do! Graduates of SENS will have communications skills and will have demonstrated they can work unsupervised and complete high-quality projects on-time. SENS also offers a highly useful experience working with others through the ENVS 992 Research Project. My suggestion is for SENS students to gain the maximum knowledge and experience available, set high standards for themselves and persevere, persevere!”

As many SENS alumni have gone onto successful careers in provincial government, with consulting firms or with NGOs, Patterson’s words of advice seem to have already been proven true.


From October 21 to November 12, 2011, we were pleased to host Randall Tetlichi, First Nations Elder, traditional healer and teacher from Yukon College in Whitehorse. He is a highly respected Vuntut Gwitch’in elder who works with youth and facilitates workshops and courses on traditional healing and sharing of indigenous knowledges at the college. 

Tetlichi stayed at the U of S for three weeks and held public presentations, taught classes, met with faculty, staff and administrators, collaborated on research projects and immersed himself in the U of S community. Cultural perspectives were broadened, new friendships made and much was learned during his visit. The visit was organized by SENS assistant professor MJ Barrett, whose own research includes a focus on Aboriginal perspectives and inclusion of indigenous knowledges in environmental decision‐making.

Randall Tetlichi

The Elder-in-Residence program serves to broaden the student experience beyond traditional academic lessons and expose them to cross-cultural knowledge and the different ways communities and people value and interpret environment and sustainability. The U of S and Yukon College have a partnership established through a Memorandum of Understanding that enables the sharing of programs, research and other resources for the benefit of both institutions.

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


SENS thanks the International Centre for Northern Government and Development, the College of Education, the Department of Geography and Planning and the Canadian Light Source for their financial and in-kind support of the Northern Elder-in-Residence visit.

For more about Randall Tetlichi, read the On Campus News feature story.