New college campus in Standoff an investment in the future

Red Crow Community College has a new main campus located in Standoff, and in September it welcomed students for the 2022 academic year. The new facility is 100,000 square feet, with state-of-the-art learning spaces and enhanced gathering areas throughout the campus to foster greater community engagement.

“As the first tribal college in the country, the college is uniquely positioned to be a leader among Indigenous education providers,” a school press release stated. “Our college is an accredited education and training provider that recognizes the significance that our Blackfoot culture has in the academic learning of students.”

Funding for the $48 million dollar facility came from three sources: the College provided $8 million, the Blood Tribe Chief and Council invested $20 million, and the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program provided the final $20 million dollars. The release added, “This is a great example of how governments can work together to fund a post-secondary institution for Indigenous peoples to learn, grow, and succeed. Our college provides significant benefits to all involved and adds to the cultural, economic, and social prosperity of our people. Red Crow Community College has earned a strong reputation as a forward-thinking academic institution.”

School president Roy Weasel Fat has been with the college for 25 years. He started as an instructor, became the adult education coordinator, then the vice-president of academics, and finally president. He believes the college has an integral and important role in changing the community’s future.

Weasel Fat said the curriculum carries a strong cultural and spiritual component to it.

“For our Blackfoot culture curriculum, we’ve developed courses that we offer to all our programs. If we deliver a one-year business certificate that has ten courses, we’ll add three to five cultural courses within it. It’s for our younger generation, people who don’t really speak the language. Our elder advisory program is a very integral part of our college. We have the elders that guide us in Blackfoot protocol and they’re also part of the instructional team.”

He said the current enrollment stands at over 400.

“We built the college for the future, so we will be increasing enrollment in our programs over time.”

The programs implement teachings based on Kainaysinni and Niitsitapi values, and Weasel Fat interpreted the terms, saying, “Kainaysinni applies to all the ways of living and being in Blackfoot culture. Niitsitapi is a descriptive term for our community, and it translates into real people.”

The college has two campuses, one in the City of Lethbridge and the new main campus in Standoff. Weasel Fat said the college is developing new programs as they move along and continue to draw increased enrollment. The satellite campus in Lethbridge mainly offers adult upgrading, while the new facility is currently running its first semester of programming. They’ve been offering classes in Standoff for many years but have used a different facility until now.

Lori Van Rooijen, project manager of the new campus facility, described the attributes that make the new building so unique.

“The main floor is about 50,000 square feet and it’s kind of in the shape of an eagle. It’s got wings on it that are surrounded by an atrium that has 35-foot ceilings and enough room for a tipi to be in it. It’s quite a beautiful, grandiose space. It’s very transparent. The ceiling is a wood honeycomb that’s supported by four abstract tree structures. We commissioned 17 Blackfoot artists to create pieces for the college. When you walk into this building it is a Blackfoot building. You know that you are in Blackfoot territory (and) you know that you are in a culturally-infused Blackfoot facility. It’s quite inspirational for students. One of the things students have commented on is that it’s just such a great environment for learning and they are really, really enjoying the space.”

The press release goes on to say, “The facility includes a learning commons with access to books and digital information, open study areas, break out space, and computer labs. Specialized science labs, as well as a medical simulation room are designed to support the student interest in the science and medical field. The new campus facility also provides a Blackfoot ceremonial space, an outdoor teaching area to reinforce our strong connection to land-based learning, counselling, and collaborative spaces to support student success, administrative offices, and a Kaahsinooniksi lounge.”

Student services includes a library, a daycare centre, a cafeteria, and a fitness centre and gymnasium for students, staff, and members of the community. A variety of classroom sizes will add significant capacity to post-secondary programming and will accommodate up to 900 full time students.

Cal Braid, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Lethbridge Herald