The following is an unofficial and unedited transcript of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This document is being sent for information purposes only and may not be quoted, as it may contain transcription errors. The edited, translated transcript will be available on the Committee’s website (http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=AANO&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3) within the next two weeks.
Le président (M. Bruce Stanton (Simcoe-Nord, PCC)): Bon après-midi, chers députés, témoins et invités.
C’est la quatrième rencontre du Comité permanent des affaires autochtones et du développement du Grand Nord.
À l’ordre du jour, nous avons l’étude de l’Université des Premières Nations du Canada.
I would like to welcome each of our witnesses today. Before we begin this important study on the First Nations University of Canada I want to point out to members, you’ll see that we have five organizations and witnesses represented here. For the benefit of witnesses we do have votes planned towards the end of our session. You’ll hear bells at approximately 5:15 and we will have to suspend our meeting at that point and finish, as far as you’re concerned, shortly after 5:15.
There being five witnesses today, members, I’m going to use a fair degree of control in terms of the length of time that is used for questions and responses. We will go with the standard seven minute opening round and then to a five minute questions for members. You’ll also know that each of the witnesses today has five minutes for your opening presentation. We will go through each of the five in order. We do have the order. Thank you very much for assisting us with that today. We’ll go through the order and once the fifth presentation is complete we will then open the floor to questions from members.
I would like to begin this afternoon by welcoming Chief Guy Lonechild. Guy is the regional chief and here today representing the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. With him is Dorothy Myo, Special Advisor to the Chief.
Guy, I understand you’re doing the presentation. You have the floor for five minutes.
Chief Guy Lonechild (Chief, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations): Yes, sir. Thank you very much to the members of Parliament, and to all
(Witness speaks in his native language).
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I speak to you today as Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. The FSIN represents 74 first nations in the province of Saskatchewan. On October 29, 2009, almost five months ago, I was elected as Chief for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations by the chiefs in assembly.
On February 3, 2010, three months after I was elected, the Honourable Rob Norris, Minister for Advanced Education, Employment and Labour, announced that the Government of Saskatchewan would end its $5.2 million in annual contributions to the First Nations University of Canada, stating that his government had, quote: “…lost confidence in the governance and management of First Nations University”. This announcement came while the FSIN chiefs were in assembly deliberating those very issues, primarily the downsizing and depoliticizing of the board, as had been recommended in previous task force reports.
On February 4, one day later, the FSIN chiefs in assembly made the right choice. We followed due process and gave political direction to downsize and depoliticize the First Nations University board of governors, thereby dissolving the board.
On February 8, four days later, the Honourable Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, followed suit, announcing that the federal government will end the $7.2 million in annual funding, effective April 1, 2010, citing systemic problems related to the governance and financial management of the institution.
I campaigned for FSIN chief on a platform of openness, transparency, and accountability. Immediately after being elected, I met with students to discuss the governance, management, and financial administration issues at the First Nations University. Since then I have worked to put in place changes that were needed.
Now I would like to tell you what the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has done to address the reasons given by the federal government for ending the $7.2 million in annual funding.
First, I will address the governance issues. Again, on February 4, 2010, the FSIN chiefs in assembly followed due process in giving the political direction to downsize and depoliticize the First Nations University board of governors. As a result, an interim board of governors was appointed, and is now chaired by Joely BigEagle, a civil engineer and alumni of the First Nations University. The members of the interim board are not first nations chiefs or band councillors. They are first nations professionals, some of whom are First Nations University alumni with graduate degrees, and respected members of the first nations community.
In mid-February, a working group was struck comprised of FSIN, First Nations University, the province of Saskatchewan, and University of Regina representatives, with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada as an observer. The working group was mandated to come up with a plan focusing on governance, management, and finance, and to explore transitional models or structures to meet the needs of all the parties. This was done and the model was accepted by the FSIN chiefs in assembly on March 8, 2010.
Beginning in early March, the FSIN, as part of the working group, was actively involved in discussions with the University of Regina. We are very committed to facilitating a strong relationship and agreement between the First Nations University and the University of Regina. As of today, the working group is very close to completing a memorandum of understanding, which I will tell you about next.
The MOU outlines: the time frames for the execution of the agreement for an integrated First Nations University liaison office; the administrative services contract between the University of Regina and the First Nations University. Key benchmarks include the following: a reorganization plan to be completed by April 30, 2010; the establishment of a long-term, depoliticized board through the FSIN legislative process by June 30, 2010; the completion of the restructuring and reorganization prior to the execution of the administrative services contract; the confirmation of the indemnification of liability by the First Nations University to address satisfaction of the University of Regina; and also the confirmation of funding from the Government of Canada and Saskatchewan prior to the execution of the administrative services contract.
Therefore, in response to the reasons stated on February 8 by Minister Strahl, significant concrete steps have been taken since early-February which address the governance, administrative and financial management of the First Nations University.
Five years in the life of a university is not a long time. FSIN Chiefs in Assembly have made the right choices to ensure that governance and administrative arrangements are implemented, and these will ensure openness, transparency and accountability, something we can all agree with.
This institution has a strong history and a future envisioned by our elders which is deserving of continued funding. Once again, we have taken steps, in partnership with the University of Regina, to address the reasons why the funding was pulled.
The Chair: Okay, Chief—
Chief Guy Lonechild: The confirmation of funding from the government—
The Chair: Chief Lonechild, I don’t want to interrupt you there.
Are you just about wrapped up? We’re over time here right now.
Chief Guy Lonechild: I’ve just got a couple statements left to make and I’m done.
The Chair: Okay. Wrap it up, then, quickly, and that’ll be good.
Chief Guy Lonechild: The confirmation of funding from government is a condition for the University of Regina to enter the administrative services contract with the First Nations University. Here I am stressing with you that the only way for First Nations University of Canada to survive is with the federal government’s commitment of multi-year sustained funding; in other words, the First Nations University equation requires your financial commitment to work.
Finally, as the Prime Minister said in question period, “The federal government is committed to protecting the students at First Nations University”, and so are we. This is what the plan will achieve, now we look forward to working in partnership with all parties.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Chief Lonechild.