Randy Lundy, chair of the First Nations University of Canada’s academic council. [Photo: Bryan Schlosser/Regina Leader-Post]
The Government of Canada has put the future of Canada’s only First Nations university at grave peril. Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl’s refusal to restore full federal finding to First Nations University of Canada will mean massive layoffs and a significant reduction in course programs, likely forcing the university to declare financial exigency and eventually close.
“We cannot understand the federal government’s decision, coming after the longstanding governance and administrative concerns at the university have been fixed,” said Randy Lundy, academic council chair and head of the institution’s English department.
More than 2,000 people have signed an open letter
to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, calling for the restoration of full federal funding. The letter reminds the prime minister of his historic 2008 apology for the residential schools that attempted to strip aboriginal Canadians of their culture and traditions and assimilate them into the dominant culture.
The letter notes that the loss of government funding will force the university to close when
the school year ends Aug. 31, making it impossible for First Nations university students to study in an institution based on First Nations traditions and cultures. The letter calls this “an act of disrespect to First Nations peoples in Canada and a continuation of the very practices for which you apologized in June 2008.”
The federal government’s surprise announcement last month to pull the annual funding from First Nations University, then its decision to provide bridge funding to allow students to complete their course work until Aug. 31, came after dramatic changes had taken place at the school.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations had reformed the governance structure
by dissolving the university’s board of governors and replacing it with a smaller and depoliticized board — a change recommended by several commissions and CAUT.
The school’s president and vice-president of administration were dismissed.
The federation, First Nations University, the Saskatchewan government and the University of Regina agreed to a partnership arrangement where the financial and administrative affairs of First Nations University would be under the aegis of the University of Regina for the next four years.
“The loss of First Nation University is a tragedy that need not happen,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “Perhaps the federal government has the mistaken belief that the university can limp along, but once faculty are laid off, programs cut and students go elsewhere or drop out, it will be too late.”
He said there was strong support for the reinstatement of funding from opposition leaders Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, whose parties “are continuing to press the Harper government in the House of Commons and in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.”