Protest funding cuts that will lead to school's death
Suggestive of an eagle in flight, the First Nations University of Canada building was designed by architect Douglas Cardinal, whose work reflects his Metis and Blackfoot heritage. The building officially opened in 2003. The property is located within Wascana Centre Authority and owned by First Nations University of Canada Inc. Under its Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement with the federal and provincial governments, Star Blanket Cree Nation is seeking reserve status for the 32.5 acres of land. The main campus is in Regina, located within the Treaty Four area, on Cree-Saulteaux land. There are also FNUC campuses in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
Recognized as a university by the Saskatchewan Government, FNUC is a federated college of UofR, and its degrees are recognized as UofR degrees. The First Nations University was an initiative of Saskatchewan First Nations elders and leaders who wanted a post secondary institution that would mirror their philosophies, languages, history and concepts of government. Students of all ancestral ethnicity are allowed and encouraged to attend FNUC.
Not unaccustomed to the “cunning of the white man,” the FNUC Student Association and their supporters presented a letter October 1, 2009, to an Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) official to deliver to federal INAC Minister Chuck Strahl. The letter was a response to INAC’s proposal to eliminate the Post Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) component of its Post-Secondary Education Program (PSEP), which funds First Nations and Inuit students. This decision would require First Nations and Inuit students to access provincial student loans. Education is considered by First Nations and Inuit Peoples as a Treaty right in exchange for land shared with settler people. The federal government argues the educational benefits it provides are a social program and not a Treaty entitlement.
The FNUC Student Association hosted a rally March 23. They announced they would be occupying immediately the university's main campus building as well as the respective campus buildings in Saskatoon and Prince Albert in what they call “Protecting the Home of Treaty Education: First Nations University of Canada Live-In.” Rules of conduct were established by university Elders: students are to attend all classes and are not to disrupt Indian Affairs or other university business. Students and supporters have been in the buildings 24 hours a day since their announcement.
Some prefer to sleep outside the university building in tipis. Research on funding for four universities in Canada (Universities of Toronto Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) indicates that FNUC only receives 64 per cent of the resources received by the other universities. Construction of the main building was only made possible through long term leasing of half the building to INAC. Aboriginal peoples receive much less funding resources for higher education than the settler population.
Stories told late at night in the tipi. Recently elected FSIN Chief Guy Lonechild surprised everyone when he persuaded the Chiefs of Saskatchewan Indian Nations to disband the First Nations University board. Lonechild’s proposal put the administration of FNUC into a partnered administrative structure with the UofR for a period of four years under a memorandum of understanding that will see the FNUIC funding controlled by UofR. The provincial government restored its $5.2 million in funding for FNUC the third week in March.
Banners hanging inside the university: one banner depicting a buffalo labelled “FNUC” being fired upon from an Indian Affairs vehicle. For many First Nations Peoples, education is referred to as the “new buffalo.” Even the quasi-colonial memorandum of understanding between the Indian Nations and the UofR has not been enough for the federal government and Minister Strahl. The federal government says it will restore only $3 million of its annual $7.2 million in funding to FNUC with the expectation that this funding be used to wind down operations, with FNUC ceasing to exist by the end of the summer.
FNUC is the only First Nations university in Canada. If Harper’s government gets its way, by August 31 there will be no such university in Canada. Lay-offs have already begun at FNUC, and by the end of summer the university will have lost what the AUCC states is the largest concentration of Aboriginal faculty in one institution in the world. If the decision is reversed and funding is returned, Saskatchewan Indian Nations will have lost most governance of the university and will have all its finances overseen by UofR administrators. Whatever the final outcome of the funding situation, colonialism has reasserted its power and control over Aboriginal education.
REGINA—Federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Chuck Strahl has killed First Nations University of Canada (FNUC), according to the Canadian Federation of Students media release of March 31. More accurately, according to Diane Adams, president of FNUC students' association, FNUC is being left to slowly bleed to death over the summer.
Minister Strahl announced March 30 through the federal government’s Canada News Centre that FNUC will receive $3 million through the Indian Studies Support Program (ISSP) for expenses related to programming for students, “so that students can finish their academic year which ends August 31, 2010.”
"It's purely a tactic to slow the death of the [school],” Adams said in a CBC news report.
Students, anticipating the federal decision, began a Live-In on March 23, staying in the universities at all three campuses—Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
Earlier this week, university president Shauneen Pete announced the closure of the Saskatoon campus, and lay-offs of faculty and staff at the Regina and Prince Albert campuses. The Saskatoon campus will be put up for sale immediately, said Pete. Students, faculty and staff, who will have to relocate to find jobs and finish their degrees, expressed shock at the announcement.
A long-standing dispute between the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN)—which appoints the Board of Governors to FNUC—and the provincial government of Saskatchewan—which partially funds the university—has played into the hands of the federal Conservatives, who subsequently pulled federal funding from FNUC.
FNUC is a university of a colonized people. As Blair Stonechild has pointed out in The New Buffalo: The Struggle for Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada, "Creating, operating, and maintaining an Aboriginal post-secondary institution within a colonialist environment that produces more failures than successes is a daunting task.”
FNUC is a chronically under-funded post-secondary institution with roots in the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) of the University of Regina (UofR) in May 1976. The first board chair, Doug Cuthand, said the board intended for Aboriginal chiefs to replace administrators once the path for Aboriginal education had been established.
In February 2005, FSIN board chair Morley Watson brought forward allegations of financial mismanagement and corruption against university administrators resulting in the suspension of three senior university officials. He placed Indian Nations people into various positions of power. Many interpreted this action as a political takeover of the university by the FSIN.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Saskatchewan government were insistent that the FNUC Board of Governors be depoliticized from the Indian Nations, and instead operate with a structure of governance similar to other Canadian universities, with an independent Board of Governors as well as appropriate representation from the institution's external stakeholders.
The university’s Board has been dominated by Chiefs appointed by FSIN, a structure that didn’t fit with the familiar settler nation model of university governance, and numerous reviews by settler nation people have agreed. CAUT decided December 1, 2008, to censure FNUC—the first such action by the organization since 1979.
Ongoing resistance by the Indian Nations to provincial and CAUT demands, coupled with allegations of financial mismanagement of the university, resulted in a decision February 3 by the provincial government to pull its $5.2 million annual contribution to the university. On February 10, the federal government pulled its $7.2 million annual funding.
“Yanking FNUC funding [was] the right choice," wrote right-wing talk radio host John Gormley in an op-ed he ran in Canwest newspapers February 5. Producer of Gormley's show, Tammy Robert, titled her February 4 blog "Close the FNUniv Chapter, Please." Conservative blogger The Phantom Observer posted under the heading “Ralph Goodale Flogs A Dead Aboriginal Horse,” and wrote, “I was sorta wondering, which MP would be monumentally ignorant enough, intellectually blind enough and catastrophically stupid enough to try to argue for continued support for First Nations University, despite the fact that everyone was fed up with its governance problems and that the government was quite right to pull its funding.”
Students have vowed to continue the Live-In until the federal government restores funding. Saskatchewan has restored funding to the university.