Oẏateki Partnership brings together three leading institutions to foster System Change in service of Saskatchewan Indigenous Youth

SASKATOON, SK – The Oẏateki Partnership is a unique collaboration designed to transform the education and employment systems in Saskatchewan in service of Indigenous young people. Over the next five years, this bold initiative will support 32,000 First Nations and Métis youth: on their path to post-secondary education, throughout their education and training, and as they transition to meaningful employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

This unprecedented partnership is co-implemented by the Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI), Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT), and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) alongside First Nations and Métis youth, communities, and organizations. The Oẏateki Partnership builds on a history of collaboration across the three partner institutions, the unique strengths and relationships that each institution holds, and a strong desire to create a more dynamic, integrated, ‘wholistic’, and responsive education system that meets the needs of Indigenous youth.

“The Mastercard Foundation has provided us the amazing opportunity to deepen relationships between GDI, SIIT, and  USask by engaging in work that transforms educational systems and structures to comprehensively support Indigenous students through their entire educational experience and through to the workforce and careers of choice,” said Jacqueline Ottmann, Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement at USask, “The culturally appropriate programming and initiatives that are identified in the 5-year plan meet the students where they are at and challenges and transforms ineffective pedagogies, methodologies, policies, and practices within our institutions – this is systems change.”

This partnership would not be possible without the generous support of the Mastercard Foundation through its EleV Initiative. EleV, launched by the Foundation in 2017, aims to support Indigenous youth in their pathways through education and on to meaningful work and livelihoods reflecting their values, traditions, and aspirations.

“Supporting success for young Indigenous people means transforming education and employment systems based on the direction of Indigenous youth, communities and Nations,” said Jennifer Brennan, Head, Canada Programs for Mastercard Foundation. “The Oyateki Partnership is truly innovative in that it will deepen collaboration across the institutions to directly meet the unique, diverse, and evolving needs of First Nations and Métis youth and communities and accelerate their success.”

The outcomes of the partnership are ambitious and targeted.

  1. Support successful transitions to post-secondary for Indigenous youth.
  2. Increase positive outcomes for Indigenous learners while at post-secondary.
  3. Support successful transitions from post-secondary into meaningful careers and work for Indigenous youth.
  4. Strengthen coordination, communication, and integration of the post-secondary and employment systems for Indigenous youth.

These outcomes will drive all activities and ensure the development of a truly inclusive system.

Riel Bellegarde, President and CEO of SIIT explains, “As a post-secondary institution governed by First Nations leaders, we take very seriously our mandate to serve First Nations people and communities. This founding belief extends to our partners, GDI and USask. With the support of the Mastercard Foundation, we have the capacity to drive successful outcomes for Indigenous learners across the province. There is no more important time than now for our province and communities to ensure meaningful Indigenous inclusion in the labour force and the economy.”

Indigenous people make up 16% of the total population in Saskatchewan and, since 2006, have grown at a rate four times faster than the non-Indigenous population.  Indigenous people in Saskatchewan are also significantly younger, on average, than the non-Indigenous population (28 vs. 41). However, historical systemic barriers have resulted in Indigenous people having higher unemployment rates (~10% higher) and being less likely to have received a post-secondary education than the non-Indigenous population (12% vs. 29%). Despite these realities, Saskatchewan is home to strong, resilient, and culturally grounded Indigenous peoples, Nations, and organizations as well as non-Indigenous allies and organizations committed to furthering reconciliation, decolonization, Indigenization and addressing inequities faced by Indigenous young people.  The three partner organizations have been at the forefront of this work.  GDI is a Métis-led post-secondary institution, SIIT is a First Nation-led post-secondary institution, and USask is a non-Indigenous university with deep commitments to serving Indigenous learners and communities.

On an individual level, the Oẏateki Partnership seeks to improve levels of self-determination among Indigenous young people in Saskatchewan by increasing their engagement with post-secondary schooling and improving educational attainment and labour market outcomes.  Achieving these short-term results will positively and meaningfully contribute to the overall ‘wholistic’ health, wellbeing, and socio-economic impacts for Indigenous individuals, families, and communities that will be felt in society.

“The Mastercard Foundation’s investment in the Oyateki partnership is a huge step forward in closing the education gap for Métis youth across the province. For this, we are so thankful. GDI is proud to contribute to this partnership in a way that creates meaningful change in Métis post-secondary education,” said Lisa-Bird Wilson, GDI Executive Director.

With the agreement signed, the partners are excited to begin the search for a managing Director for this ground-breaking collaboration. The position offers a singular opportunity for the right change agent. The Oẏateki Director will have the resources and support to make a significant difference in the economic and social development of Saskatchewan and provide a template for future change across the country.

The concept of Oẏateki as a symbol of this collaboration was gifted to the partnership by Kunsi Connie Wajunta of Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation. Oẏateki is a Dakota word meaning: all people together and leaving no people behind. This sense of gathering holds two meanings for this collaboration. Firstly, the three post-secondary organizations come together in their commitment to empowering Indigenous youth. Secondly, this partnership endeavours to bring all people together into self-determination, the invitation of all people to the table, and the elimination of those barriers that keep us apart.




For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Dr. Victoria Lamb Drover

Director, Strategic Communications

Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies 

Phone:  (306) 441-5418   Email: droverv@siit.ca

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