First Nations Students Live In University
By Garson Hunter, of the The Dominion News Cooperative.
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.