Going where eagles dare, seeing new possibilities: SIIT students travel to New Mexico for international experience
“I never realized how different it was until I saw it first hand.”,

Nicole Gaddie explained when asked about her impression of the culture she saw and experienced in New Mexico.

She had just returned home the previous day from an outbound mobility experience in New Mexico, USA. She and SIIT Academic Initiatives Coordinator Chantal Stenger, took time to meet and chat about their excursion in the Go Where Eagles Dare (GWED) program. Nicole described some of the differences she saw while there and shared her feeling of a new appreciation for home.

The travelling has now ended, but the journey for this excursion began over two years ago. Nicole and the rest of her classmates started their experience with the Go Where Eagles Dare program in 2022. Together, they studied best practices in travelling internationally and making the most of this kind of learning experience. While Nicole has had the opportunity to travel previously, 10 out of the 12 students in the GWED cohort had either never before flown on an airplane or been out of the country. Needless to say, the experience was quite a milestone for them.

The GWED program is a pilot program funded through the Oyateki Partnership, Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), Global Skills Opportunity (GSO), and Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT). The program provides full-time post-secondary SIIT students with the opportunity to participate in international travel. Previously the GWED program had undergone two excursions to Ottawa and Montreal, but this is the first year the travel is international. Through the learnings, students gain diverse cross-cultural experiences, skills, and knowledge on international work and study opportunities, and awareness of the ins and outs of preparing for travel.

GWED is comprised of two mandatory courses, International Work Study Prep, and Outbound Mobility and Capstone Project. Within the Outbound Mobility and Capstone course, students apply knowledge from the program and outbound mobility experience to a multimedia digital storytelling capstone project.

The project allows students to use critical thinking, communication, collaboration, organization, accountability, networking and relationship building, systems thinking, and leadership skills. Students have the option of completing the project individually or as a team of two and focus on one of three categories:

  • Travel stories, exploring pre- and post-travel with other Travel Club members, community, Elders, etc.
  • Traditional travel, exploring how systemic racism (ex: Indian Act) has restricted and prevented Indigenous travel and current implications to economies and culture.
  • Pueblo culture and economies, understanding past and present culture and economies of the Pueblo peoples, exploring the differences and similarities of Indigenous peoples in Canada and Pueblo peoples in USA.

To register, students must already be registered in a full-time SIIT post-secondary diploma program. Nicole was already busy in her studies as a Business Administration II student when she entered the program. When we asked what moved her to enroll, she said “I haven’t travelled internationally for over 20 years, so I was excited to get the opportunity to travel and obtain all my travel documents again.”

Other than a few ‘roadblocks’ on the trip down that included lost luggage and a missed connection, the trip was an exciting adventure rich with culture, history and an opportunity to see other Indigenous post-secondary education organizations.

The 16 day trip included visits to Acoma Pueblo, Zuni Pueblo, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for learnings on land, environment, history and traditions, as well as stops in Santa Fe and Old Town Albequeque. A highlight was a visit to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). The post-secondary institute is known as the birthplace of contemporary Indigenous American art and is the only Indigenous American art college in the United States. The influence is immediately evident on the beautiful campus. An open space in the centre of the grounds is reserved for ceremonies, with all of the buildings in a circle around it. The buildings are situated around the Spring and Winter equinox and corners of the buildings align with the sun during equinoxes. All curriculum is tailored for Indigenous learning, including an agricultural area where crops and bee farms are grown and maintained sustainably.

There was much learning to take in during the trip that would add to each student’s personal wealth of experiences. An uneventful trip home gave the first-time travelers time to finally relax and begin to reflect. The GWED program is designed to allow for this kind of experience to be possible for students who may not have otherwise been able to go.

“Each of the students getting their passports has now really opened the door to international travel for them,” Chantal says.

The trip gives them the opportunity to see what travelling to other countries can do for options in employment and learning down the road.

“You will work with people from other countries eventually (in your career),” Chantal adds. “(This program) gets the students acquainted with that concept so that they can appreciate the differences.”

The final module of the course, the creation of a multimedia capstone project, is where the students use their knowledge and experiences to express their perspectives and solutions on envisioning the future. It will be exciting to see where their perspectives take them, there’s a world of possibilities to explore.

Oẏateki is a Dakota concept meaning all people together and leaving no people behind