Fishing Lake member Ottmann appointed President of First Nations University
- NC Raine
Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann is keenly familiar with the profound impact that support and encouragement can have on a young person's success in education. She's felt it, first hand.
“I had parents who encouraged education, completion of school. I had grandparents that supported schooling completion,” said Ottmann.
“My family really did celebrate, not only my high school completion, but the completion of each of my degrees.”
That passion for education, home-grown in Fishing Lake First Nation, has led Ottmann from high school teacher to doctorate in education, and now, to the highest reaches of leadership in academia. On June 28, Ottmann was appointed the new President of First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv).
“This is somewhat of a dream come true because, as an Indigenous person, to be part of a post-secondary Institution that is founded upon Indigenous knowledge is a privilege,” she said.
“Education has been my passion, my calling, my career.”
Ottmann will begin her role as the tenth President of FNUniv on September 7, a position she has long been working towards. An Anishinaabe woman and speaker of Nakawe language, she has spent her life immersed in culture and education.
After receiving her Education Degree at the University of Calgary, she returned home to obtain her Masters and PhD at the University of Saskatchewan. Among her distinguished career, Ottmann has served as an Associate Professor and Director of Indigenous Education at the University of Calgary, President of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, Professor and the first ever Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Saskatchewan.
“I think that having Indigenous perspectives and voices at the most senior levels of administration is very important, especially with the goal of Indigenization, reconciliation, and decolonization, you need to have Indigenous representation. Universities are complex organizations, so you have to have an understanding of the way things work and the social impacts that universities can have,” she said.
Since the vision of the president and her job performance are considered synonymous with the university's performance, Ottmann will have a far-reaching influence in education in the province.
The FNUniv, which is federated with the University of Regina with campuses in Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Alberta, brings Indigenous ceremony, knowledge keepers, language and traditions to post-secondary education.
It has about 1,200 students and graduated 195 students in 2020.
Loretta Pete Lambert, Chair of FNUniv’s Board of Governors, said Ottmann is a stand-out on paper but also impressed the executive council, students, and Elders who have met her.
“She has a collaborative (approach) and a quiet, driven energy to her. And of course, she has the experience in post-secondary that speaks to what her capabilities are,” said Lambert.
“I think the University at this time needs an innovative thinker. We have a community of individuals who are very driven and professionally efficient in our university community, so I think she'll fit right into that.”
Ottmann says that now is a particularly important time for Canadians to become better versed in the often tragic history of Indigenous people.
“These stories of what happened at Indian Residential Schools are known within our communities. There have been many people who have advocated for change within our institutions, but also for various kinds of resources and support. With this new awareness, with new knowledge comes responsibility. I hope Canadians will come to understand what that responsibility is.”
In leading FNUniv for the next five years, Ottmann intends to uplift and support Indigenous students, through increased mental health supports, financial support and daycare for student-parents. Increased support for Indigenous students means more Indigenous knowledge and participation in mainstream society, she said.
“There's so much that contributes to the barriers Indigenous students face. (Barriers affect) our communities and are connected to our society and to how our educational institution are built and function. There's not one factor or barrier for Indigenous students, so I believe in providing integrated, wrap-around supports for our Indigenous students,” she said.
“We need to ensure our students are properly supported through the education process, as well as through program completion and even beyond into the work force.”