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Aboriginal university unveiled

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REGINA, Saskatchewan - Highlighting his five-day visit to Saskatchewan, Royal Highness, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, unveiled the podium officially designating the re-naming and opening of North America's first all-Aboriginal university in Regina.

On Canada's National Aboriginal Day, June 21, more than 2,000 attended to see a member of the Royal Family start a new chapter in Canadian Native education. What had been the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) since 1976 that was originally housed in a one-room building has now become the First Nations University of Canada, a $25 million four-story, 150,000-square foot architectural marvel.

The prince's ceremonial duties culminated a morning complete with tributes and honors to those elders, educators and politicians who've assisted since plans to expand SIFC occurred 13 years ago. With more than 500 students on the Regina site (there are three other SIFC campuses throughout the province), there was an obvious need for their own larger facility, one that would be more accommodating to their cultural requirements.

Leading the agenda was Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. Saying education was a right that dates back to 1874 when the local tribes signed Treaty 4, and this university is a necessity towards the re-building of Native nations.

"The first (type of school) is the kindergarten through grade 12 and the post-secondary education with the maths and the sciences and everything else. But equally important is that which our elders talked about, the languages, the traditions and the culture, this is a good balance and that's what this institution teaches us," Bellegarde said.

One of the major financial contributors to the university was the federal government and representing Ottawa was a Member of Parliament from Regina, Ralph Goodale, who holds the cabinet position of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He was aware of the importance and symbolism in conducting this unveiling during National Aboriginal Day.

"In a very tangible way, this day helps fulfill the dream of ancient leaders who, seeing the disappearance of the ancient buffalo, saw that for their people's future the new buffalo would be education," Goodale said.

Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert spoke of how these ceremonies ranked among the milestones of his province's history, including the openings of the legislature and the universities of Regina and Saskatchewan.

Though the name has changed, the First Nations University remains affiliated with the University of Regina as it has for the past 27 years. Addressing the audience was University of Regina President, Dr. David Barnard, who won immediate praise for his fluent use of Cree in several sentences.

One of the last dignitaries to speak was the school's President, Dr. Eber Hampton, who also received the greatest applause. Saying that his heart was "full of pride and joy," there was a distinctive choke in Hampton's voice as he delivered his message calmly without the aid of a prepared speech.

He stated this day was important not only for First Nations, but for all people, the province of Saskatchewan and Canada as a whole. Hampton also honored the school's past by acknowledging the previous name, specifically looking at one word from Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

"Federated in the literal translation is to accompany and invite our siblings to accomplish something. Today we can say we did this ourselves and nobody did this for us," quietly, though boldly, emphasized by Hampton.