Alumni news

President's message, Exonerating Chief Poundmaker, The storyteller and Convocation ceremonies move to Merlis Belsher Place

President's message

A message from your Alumni Association president


Greetings fellow USask alumni! Two heads are better than one, so the saying goes. This issue of the Green & White is all about collaboration and I can’t think of a better way to describe our unfailing, hardworking alumni family.

If you think of all the amazing work accomplished throughout history, rarely was it just one person sitting alone with their thoughts. People work better through collaboration, as opposed to working entirely alone, because great things happen when we put our minds together.

I believe this collaborative trait is innate in all of our students, it is nurtured once they set foot on our campus and it continues to grow once they walk out our doors into the world as USask alumni.

At the Alumni Association, we are committed to collaborating with you to add value to your life as USask graduates. This includes providing benefits, services, events, and being your continued link back to campus. We are committed to celebrating and encouraging the success of all of you!

We are busy at work enhancing the collaborative ways we engage, support and encourage our alumni. We are excited to welcome convocation back to campus this year and start a new legacy of tradition at Merlis Belsher Place. As always, we will be there to welcome all our new alumni into our family and look forward to connecting with new, old and future alumni during this week-long campus event.

We continue to build on our regional network plan, which will foster a community of alumni champions who want to continue their USask connection beyond their student years.

Alumni Weekend is also a great time to collaborate and return to your roots even if you continue to live in Saskatoon. We are  building on the success of last year, and encouraging alumni to get involved with planning their class reunions during this time as well. Reunions are a great way to connect with your alma mater and fellow alumni, be they lifelong or newly established friendships. I encourage you to look on our updated website, which now has information on where you can begin if you think you would like to plan a reunion.

The Alumni Achievement Awards are also a fabulous time to reconnect with us. Our alumni achievement award winners range from prestigious researchers to distinguished philanthropists. Nominations are currently open for this prestigious recognition of achievement. If you know of someone in your circle who has a USask degree and deserves notable recognition, make sure to nominate them today.

USask alumni are known to be collaborative across all fields of study, life and work. We are strengthened through this collaboration and want to continue building our relationships with you, no matter where you find yourself in the world.

You are a student for only a few short years, but an alumnus forever.

Kelly Strueby (BComm’84)
President, Alumni Association

Exonerating Chief Poundmaker

The campaign for justice of Chief Poundmaker that has been going on for over a century is about to come to an end.


Chancellor Emeritus Blaine Favel (BEd ’87), former Chief of Poundmarker Cree Nation, has been working with his community of Poundmaker Cree Nation since 1995 to set things straight and clear Chief Poundmaker’s name.

“People should be proud of Chief Poundmaker because he was a peace maker,” said Favel.

The history books currently paint Chief Poundmaker as a rebel who was tried and convicted for treason after the battle at Cut Knife Hill.

“I grew up hearing two stories. One story was the Canadian version in the textbooks where Poundmaker was a traitor and a rebel. And the story of my people that we were attacked at dawn by 300 armed soldiers and our grandfathers fought courageously with inferior weapons and they won,” said Favel.

The false narrative of Chief Poundmaker put forth by the government of the time all started when some of the people of Poundmaker Cree Nation and Chief Poundmaker went to Fort Battleford to talk to someone about the rations they were promised but weren’t being supplied after Treaty 6 was signed in 1876.

Chief Poundmaker and his people waited for two days for a chance to speak to someone, but were greeted with silence. This angered Poundmaker’s warriors and, despite his efforts to calm them down, they eventually raided the town and then returned home.

They were soon followed by Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and over 300 Canadian soldiers who were looking for revenge. They attacked at dawn on May 2, 1885. The warriors of Poundmaker fought against the troops until the soldiers retreated. Chief Poundmaker made the decision to not pursue them, calling for peace instead.

To try and keep the peace, Chief Poundmaker turned himself in and was charged with treason. He was in jail for a year before being released due to illness. He died soon after.

Favel started his journey exonerating Chief Poundmaker when he was Chief of Poundmaker Cree Nation in 1995. He made some headway in 2017 during Canada’s 150th celebrations.

“The community asked me to take this on again. So we started a social media campaign, we started letter writing, we got into Ottawa with meetings, we got Chief of Poundmaker to a bunch of meetings. So the real intense energy has been in the last two years,” said Favel.

His hard work has since paid off. In January of 2018, the Canadian government said they would agree to exonerate Chief Poundmaker and now they’re in the negotiation stage.

“The position of the community, is that we're prepared to accept the exoneration and the apology, but we'd like there to be compensation for approximately 100 horses, weapons and materials used to make food that was expropriated by the government and the hardships our ancestors endured subsequent to the battle because Chief Poundmaker and our community did nothing wrong,” said Favel.

Favel looks forward to negotiations being concluded this year and an apology from the government occurring in the community hopefully soon.

“It's good moment for Canada because they recognize what we now know—that this fellow was a great Canadian. It's a sign of maturity of a country that it can acknowledge a wrong and a harm and make amends in an effort to move forward,” said Favel.

“This is very much a chapter in the national reconciliation that the country is going through, post the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding residential schools.”

The storyteller

Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell has had a robust career that spans provincially, federally and internationally. She attributes that breadth and success in part to her USask degrees.


Elizabeth Dowdeswell (BSHEC’66, LLD’92) has come a long way since her days as a student living in Saskatchewan Hall.

During a 2018 visit back to the USask campus, the home economics major and Greystone singer alumna fondly looked back at her time as a USask student and recalled the close-knit community, the top-notch faculty, the physical beauty, and connectedness that flourished throughout the Greystone walls.

“One of the wonderful things about coming back and thinking about where you’ve been is that you realize things you never realized at the time. One of the things that is so amazing about this university begins with the academic excellence,” said Dowdeswell.

Dowdeswell credits faculty members, mentors and peers for providing her with an arsenal of skills once she graduated. She also enjoyed working in the Extension Division, an opportunity that enabled her to be on campus year round. Always one to be curious and challenge the status quo, she even took her electives in fine arts and music, going outside the norm of what was traditionally offered to a home economics student. She did so to feed her multiple interests, an approach she would adopt throughout the rest of her life.

“I look back fondly on my time because of the people and because of the skills it taught me in communications, in critical thinking and in seeing beyond disciplines,” said Dowdeswell.

A career that has transcended traditional disciplinary lines, Dowdeswell has served on many boards, worked in all levels of government, and has been an advisor to a number of Canadian and international nonprofit organizations. Her focus has been vast, ranging from policy-making to environmental sustainability.

Now the province of Ontario’s lieutenant governor, Dowdeswell uses the knowledge gained at USask combined with a lifetime of experience to serve her province in her constitutional role. This includes ceremonial and commemorative events to recognize and celebrate the citizens of the province, and it is also an avenue for her to continue the work she is deeply passionate about.

This includes her love of storytelling, something she has stitched into her current role and duties.

“There are stories of amazing individuals from place to place that nobody ever hears and we don’t tell them. One day I went off script and said ‘I’m going to declare myself the chief storyteller’ and people seemed to really like that. I’ve been doing that ever since,” Dowdeswell said with a laugh.

During Canada’s 150 anniversary celebrations, Dowdeswell and her team came up with a unique project to share Ontarian stories. The goal was to ask 150 Ontarians what it meant to be an Ontarian in just 150 words. The results ranged from funny quips to poignant stories featuring everyone from famous members of the provincial community to people she met on the street in Thunder Bay.

A common theme in these stories were the citizen’s concerns and aspirations around sustainability. Dowdeswell heard people wanting to connect the dots between economic prosperity, social and cultural cohesion, and environmental stewardship. They wanted to create a better future for themselves and their children. This motivated her to continue to connect and educate her community about sustainability—a passion that started early in her career during her time at Environment Canada and continues to this day.

As she continues her work, she said she is continuously grateful for the opportunities she has been gifted.

“I would say virtually everything I’ve done has been pure serendipity. It was nothing that I was ever seeking to do. I would  never thought of working on climate change issues or work with oil sands or any of those things. I just was so fortunate that it landed on my desk,” said Dowdeswell.

Dowdeswell said current USask students and young alumni looking to pursue a career like hers have to keep an open mind when it comes to career developments and life in general.

“If you’re curious and want to learn every day, and a bit of a risk taker, then the world is just open to all kinds of things,” said Dowdeswell.

Convocation ceremonies move to Merlis Belsher Place

It’s a brand-new era for convocation ceremonies at USask

A look at convocation through the years.

Spring convocation will be held in the new Merlis Belsher Place multisport complex on campus, after 50 years of the university’s graduation ceremonies being held in downtown Saskatoon at TCU Place. With last fall’s opening of Merlis Belsher Place—a state-of-the-art 120,000-square foot facility featuring two full-sized ice rinks and two basketball courts—the university has moved its annual spring and fall graduation ceremonies back to campus.

“Seeing convocation come back to campus after many decades is very exciting indeed,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff. “It conjures images from the past of graduands lining up around the Bowl to enter Convocation Hall, but adds our contemporary reality of many thousands of students graduating across eight ceremonies and the need for a venue that can accommodate these numbers.

“With the return to campus in Merlis Belsher Place we reacquaint families and friends and supporters with the unique beauty of our buildings and grounds, and reconnect graduands and alumni with their colleges and schools for events and celebrations. The new location also gives us the opportunity to make changes to the convocation ceremonies themselves that all will appreciate.” 

The first spring convocation ceremonies in the new facility are scheduled for the week of June 3-7, along with the annual Graduation Powwow also slated to be held there for the first time on May 31.

Since spring of 1968, USask convocation ceremonies had been held at TCU Place, a 104,000-square foot, 2,000-seat convention and arts centre in downtown Saskatoon. Merlis Belsher Place provides spectator seating for 2,700 in the main arena with additional capacity for up to a total of 3,700 including floor seating. It also offers plenty of staging area in the attached  gymnasium facilities, making it well-suited and well-sized to host convocation, according to University Registrar Russ Isinger (BA’88, MA’97), who helps lead convocation planning.

“It is going to be different because TCU Place is a purpose-designed event centre, whereas Merlis Belsher Place is a multipurpose facility. But the main advantage is that it has more seating so that graduates can invite more family and friends,” said Isinger. “And having the score clock to broadcast live video to the audience during the ceremony is going to be a nice feature. As well,  the attached gymnasium is going to be a great help to us. We always had logistical challenges having the grads line up behind  the stage at TCU Place. And now having the gymnasium where we can put all the grads and the gown rental and some of the other services that we offer the students, like flowers and framing, that can all likely be done there.”

The move from downtown back to campus does come with some logistical challenges for the organizing committee, but also provides plenty of new benefits for the university, said Isinger.

“There are huge spin-off benefits to having convocation on campus,” he said. “The students will be taking their pictures here, attending college or other events, maybe eating on campus at Marquis or Louis’ or shopping in the bookstore, or they will be just generally wandering around the campus. And if they are the children or grandchildren of alumni, their families we hope will be revisiting campus, whereas they might not have had the time to do that if they were downtown. So, it’s all about getting people back on campus and I think that is the best part of this move.” 

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