February 26, 2010
Dear Minister Strahl,
As a Canadian citizen, I was touched and heartened by Prime Minister Harper’s words of apology for the imposition of residential schools on the Indigenous peoples of this country. I felt that the apology was good first step to righting past wrongs and healing the hurt done. The people responsible for the residential schools believed they knew what was best for Indigenous children and their parents but history has shown how wrong their approach was. All Canadians are living with the legacy of that misguided policy of education.
Like many others, I was hoping that the apology would be followed by positive actions to move forward in Indigenous education. You can imagine my shock and dismay when you announced that your department would no longer fund First Nations University. Rather than moving forward, this is a step backward. It has almost been 40 years since the federal government adopted “Indian Control of Indian Education”. This policy was the first major statement in Canada that First Nations peoples should not only be teachers and administrators, but that First Nations peoples had the right and authority to control their own educational systems.
First Nations University was a direct outcome of the vision and actions of First Nations Elders, Chiefs and professionals who worked so hard to establish a post-secondary institution built on First Nations values, beliefs and philosophy. In its thirty four year history, First Nations University has developed a world class reputation for its innovative programming and academic excellence. In the recent past, questions have been raised regarding some of the administrative processes that were reported extensively in the media. During this time, the academic and professional integrity of our programming was never compromised.
We all want accountability and transparency in all institutions. When the auditor general of Canada finds administrative problems with how taxpayers dollars are spent and the changes are not immediately acted upon, we as citizens cannot withhold our tax dollars. At the last Assembly of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations the Chiefs passed a resolution that addressed all the changes called for by the federal and provincial governments. The senior administrative staff has changed. These governance and administrative changes have been made. Why has funding not been restored, even conditionally on certain promised changes being enacted?
With the changing demographics in our province and country, we need academically established institutions to meet the educational needs of First Nations students and to educate non-Indigenous students about the history and culture of the First Nations peoples. We currently have over 1,100 University of Regina students registered in our classes. They would not be here if other institutions had the capacity to provide the academic programming that is delivered by our institution.
Dr. Linda M Goulet
Department of Indigenous Education
First Nations University of Canada