Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre

Rising up out of the landscape of our campus, the iconic Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre will be a vibrant, inclusive gathering place that welcomes everyone—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike—to come together and learn from each other in respectful ways.

Although the building itself will be located in the centre of Wiggins Court (flanked by the Murray Library and the College of Arts and Sciences building), its presence will begin at Wiggins Avenue with a Tyndall-stone landscape wall that will slowly undulate and eventually wrap itself around to become the northern wall of the building—a symbolic blanket protecting the centre from Saskatchewan’s northern winter winds.

The facility may use stone that is typical of many buildings on campus, but the carefully selected colour and texture will be evocative of a buckskin blanket adorned by colorful fieldstone “beads.” Windows will resemble horizontal ribbons that maintain a strong relationship with the earth and are interrupted by pattern and decoration to celebrate the seven sacred directions—not only north, east, west, and south, but also sky, earth, and the centre (the spirit).

Like the medicine wheel, the building has four quadrants representing the four cardinal directions. Each of these directions represents a season and has a particular colour—south (summer, red), east (spring, yellow), west (dark, but not black, fall), and north (winter, white). The entrance is on the south side and a person moves clockwise through the building. Along the east side of the building, the wall will gently curve back on itself and enter the building, eventually enveloping the ceremonial space at the centre, and returning to the earth as the focal form of the western stairwell. The building’s design is based on the notion of a circle being the symbolic base for healing, knowledge, and equality—this is the foundation for all Indigenous ceremonies. Therefore, the central gathering space is both the symbolic and systemic base for the building’s plan. Each department is anchored to this central space and it will be the departure point for all other parts of the building.

Like the design itself, programming inside the Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre will be open and collaborative. It will include three components that, while separate, will build upon each other through synergies, stronger relationships, and opportunities. The centre will feature space for Aboriginal students, including a lounge, resource/computer lab, and student office, coordinated through the Indigenous Student Council. The Aboriginal Students’ Centre /Student and Enrolment Services will have office and support space for student advisors/counselors and space for Aboriginal elders. Finally, a central gathering space/ceremonial space will act as the social hub of the facility and create a “cultural destination” for both the campus and broader community.

In an effort to create efficiencies, optimize design features, and reduce costs, architect Douglas Cardinal was asked to revisit the design. Cardinal, whose signature buildings include the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, is of Métis and Blackfoot heritage. Designed by Cardinal, the centre will not only be a stunning piece of Aboriginal architecture, it will also be a vibrant, inclusive gathering place where all U of S students, staff, and faculty can connect, celebrate Aboriginal history and culture, and learn from each other.

The University of Saskatchewan is committed to becoming the pre-eminent Canadian medical-doctoral university in Aboriginal education and we want to be the university-of-choice for Aboriginal students in Canada. Construction of the Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre will be a key milestone in meeting that goal.

Construction started July 2, 2013.