Ralph Goodale, M.P. Wascana
310 University Park Drive
I am writing to express my great concern and decisions of Minister Strahl of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada regarding First Nations University of Canada and his recent letter to the editor, which appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday February 18, 2010. I am requesting your intervention in this matter.
To my knowledge the First Nations University of Canada has not been found to have violated anyone’s academic freedom. This one outstanding case has been settled in the favour of the First Nations University of Canada. As well, no one at any point has raised any concerns over the academic qualifications of the faculty of the First Nations University of Canada or the overall academic integrity of the institution itself.
The issues that have been raised have been in regards to the perceived possibility of the First Nations leadership somehow impinging on the academic freedom or integrity of this institution. Certainly wild accusations have been thrown around over the years but nothing has been proven in a court of law.
In his letter to the editor Minister Strahl stated that, “The decision not to renew funding for this institution was based on many attempts to help make its governance accountable and its spending transparent. Unfortunately, these efforts proved to be unsuccessful …”
In my opinion this statement is flatly untrue. You will recall the Minister Strahl had made the decision to withdraw federal funding on Monday February 8. 2010. By that point the Legislative Assembly of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations had dissolved the former Board of Governors and put in place a new board with no political representation.
Clearly Minister Strahl is being misleading when he states that the decision was made because the efforts to achieve governance accountability were unsuccessful. When he made the decision on February 8, 2010 Minister Strahl knew that the Legislative Assembly of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations had made this substantive change to the governance structure of the First Nations University of Canada. It is beneath the honour of the Crown that a Minister of the Crown to put forth such an untruth in a national newspaper.
The spending of the First Nations University of Canada has been reviewed on a substantive annual basis by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. If Minister Strahl was exercising his due diligence he should have been aware of the particulars of the spending of the First Nations University of Canada. At the time of this decision he ought to have known that Meyers Norris Penny LLP are preparing an audit of the First Nations University of Canada. Clearly he is pre-judging the results of this report.
It is my considered opinion that the hurried decision of the federal government to withdraw funding was intended to kill First Nations University of Canada regardless of the existing facts. In his letter of February 18, 2010 Minister Strahl, “… I continue to remain an active participant in these discussions …”
As Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that the honour of the Crown must be upheld in these discussions. As well the duty to consult and accommodate must be maintained in these discussions. In particular, if a decision has already been made then Minister Strahl is not upholding the honour of the Crown or fulfilling the duty to consult and accommodate. He has an obligation to uphold his fiduciary responsibility to the First Nations. I am particularly troubled by his assertion that, “While no decision has been made on how funds will be reallocated, I can confirm that they will be used to support first nations [sic] learners …”
I’m not sure whom he is referring to by ‘first nations learners’. However First Nations post secondary students in Saskatchewan should be troubled by that statement as it gives them no assurance whatsoever. The First Nations University of Canada has contributed immensely to Canadian academia, First Nations’ economic development, Saskatchewan socio-economic prosperity and will continue to do so.
As well, the First Nations University of Canada has taught thousands of non-First Nations students from the University of Regina and other institutions. That has contributed significantly to bridging cross-cultural differences in this province. By this point I trust Minister Strahl and the Government of Saskatchewan appreciate the great attachment the over 130,000 Saskatchewan First Nations citizens have for this institution.
It is essential to appreciate the historical context that led to the founding of the First Nations University of Canada in 1976. There had been little success by First Nations learners in mainstream post-secondary, secondary and elementary institutions, among other things. This led the Assembly of First Nations of Canada to put forward the landmark Indian Control of Indian Education position paper in 1972.
The positions articulated in Indian Control of Indian Education were adopted as federal policy in 1973. The First Nations University of Canada was the first concrete expression of Indian Control of Indian Education at the post secondary level. The recent effort of the federal government to kill the First Nations University of Canada is an abandonment of the long established federal policy of Indian Control of Indian Education. This abandonment of long established federal policy was done with out fulfilling the duty to consult and accommodate First Nations. The First Nations University of Canada is an institution of the First Nations of Canada. Clearly the First Nations of Canada have not been consulted.
It is deeply troubling that the estimated 40,000 children in the current K – 12 Saskatchewan system will not complete high school, using the current 76% drop out rate for up to age 16. Age 16 is used because INAC responsibility ends at that age because these children can become emancipated at that age, so the drop-out rate is much higher when one includes the 17 and 18 year olds. These same children are being taught using the provincial curriculum and being taught by teachers who received their education from the provincial institutions, so its my prediction we will still see the extremes of the socio-economic stratification of the First Nations and the general Saskatchewan population.
The First Nations University of Canada gives hope for a higher education in a culturally nurturing environment for countless First Nations’ youth. At the Legislative Assembly of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations on February 4, 2010 seventeen-year-old Amelia Badger expressed her desire to attend the First Nations University of Canada. The actions of the federal government are quite clearly intended to dash her dreams and those of countless other First Nations’ youth.
The First Nations University of Canada provides quality academic programming. That was never at issue but rather the administrative side was. Clearly the actions of the federal government do not justify the punishment being dealt out to First Nations University of Canada students and faculty.
This rush to judgement reflected by the many public statements by Ministers of Crown violate the principle of sub judice that requires not commenting on matters before the court. It should be remembered the former Chief Financial Officer Murray Westerlund has launched a lawsuit against the First Nations University of Canada. A fair interpretation is that the many comments by Ministers Rob Norris and Chuck Strahl clearly accept as fact the allegations that have apparently been made by Murray Westerlund.
So it makes me wonder what else the governments are doing to kill this institution and how many closed door meetings; so where is the accountability and transparency, where is the duty to consult? The needs of the First Nations peoples of Canada for post secondary education have not been met or accommodated. In general, First Nations post secondary graduation rates are at half of the Canadian population in the same cohort. The immense cost to the Canadian economy and society cannot be overstated if this capital investment is not continued.
In my opinion, in the drive for governance changes and transparency, these intentional decisions of the Federal and Provincial government were made to kill First Nations University of Canada, which would be one way to for federal off-loading whereby the province acquires those same federal dollars for their provincial institutions.
Della Anaquod, Alumna 1991, First Nations University of Canada
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