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: Maintenant, nous procéderons aux questions des députés. Nous commençons avec M. Russell pour sept minutes.
Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon to each of you and thank you for taking the time to come here to Ottawa, particularly on such short notice. I understand the urgency of this particular situation for each of you, and just as importantly of course, for the students and faculty, and all of those who are impacted by the federal government’s decision not to fund the First Nations University of Canada.
I have to say that in my almost five years at the committee, this is some of the most powerful testimony I’ve heard, and the most compelling arguments around a particular position. In this case, it’s to keep the First Nations University of Canada open. Over the last number of weeks and months, we have heard many, many different stories reported through many different types of media, whether it’s by radio or by newspaper or by television, about what is going on or not going on.
It is refreshing to see that you are bringing, I think, to light exactly what is happening, because when we ask questions in the House of Commons–I have to be quite frank with you–to the minister on this particular issue, Minister Chuck Strahl, all we get is the negatives. We have never heard of its successes. We have never heard about the uniqueness. We have never heard about the positive changes that are taking place.
There have been many calls by ourselves, many of my colleagues in the House of Commons, to restore the funding, and of course our leader, Michael Ignatieff, has added his voice to that as well.
You have laid out every criticism that’s been levelled against this institution. It seems to me that every criticism that’s been levelled against this institution by the Conservative government has been answered, so where do we go? When I asked the minister last Thursday if there was any scenario that he could see where funding would continue, he did not answer the question, but continued to raise doubts about the progress that has been made, about changes that you have undertaken; extraordinary changes, many of you have said, with FSIN and the leadership of Chief Lonechild, and I indeed I would say all of you at this particular table.
However I think it is important as well for us to enunciate that you have made the fundamental change in governance, in administration, in management, that everybody who was a critic has asked for. You have done your part. Now it’s up to the federal government to assure that this new model can succeed and, as many of you said, reward transparency and accountability, not penalize it.
There’s also been a perception that March 31 comes, April 1 comes, and the students can just move from one institution to another, that life will go on as usual, that somehow faculty will all find jobs, that somehow this unique university will not survive. I want to ask each of you–in a very short time frame, I know–to tell us what impact this will have upon the students and the faculty and FSIN.
The Chair: Just before you start with that, the way this works–and I’m just going to stop the time here temporarily–on a seven minute question, it’s the time for the question and the answer, so we can get more in if you keep your responses succinct and members keep their questions succinct also. I’m sure we’ll receive a number of questions from members. The more succinct we can keep it, the more we’ll get through. Okay?
With that, please carry on, Ms. Adams.
Mrs. Diane J. Adams: I think the most important thing to remember is that the students of this institution are people who chose to come to this institution.
When you’re entering into university, at whatever age you’re at, and I assure you that our demographics look much different than at the average university–most of our students are actually well into their thirties, and I would guess 80% of our student body are parents, many of them single parents–you have made a choice about your future. You have made a choice about your future career, and you are busy defining what the path of the rest of your life is going to be.
The threat of the closure of this institution has basically thrown a wrench into the hopes and dreams and plans for the future of every single student who is going to that university. For many students, there is not an option to go to a mainstream institution. First nations students have barriers to being successful in post-secondary education. For 34 years, the first nations people have been addressing how to address the barriers, and only we know how to do it.
With that, I suspect that many of our students will just exit post-secondary forever, and if not, they are going to have the future plans that they had trotted out over many years, and have overcome many hurdles to get to, just basically trampled on. Their futures are very uncertain and it’s very disheartening for the students at the university.
Mr. Randy Lundy: A follow-up?
Mr. Todd Russell: No, just go ahead, sir.
Mr. Randy Lundy: I just want to make clear that we are talking about whether the doors to the institution are open or not. From what I’ve heard from Minister Strahl, he’s not inclined to restore the $7.2 million in federal funding. He seems to want to fund students to go wherever they choose to go, as long as it’s not us because our doors won’t be open.
What that means is that 66 faculty members will be out of work, about a couple of hundred staff people will be out of work. So we’re looking at least 200 or 250 staff and faculty who will be on the unemployment line. I don’t think that’s necessarily a plank in Canada’s economic action plan, but that’s what we’re looking at. We’re going to be at least 200, 250 people unemployed.
More importantly than whether we find jobs or not elsewhere, as I was suggesting earlier in my comments, what’s important is that we have a gathering, a nexus of expertise here that will be dispersed, and it exists no where else in the country. If we don’t get that funding back in place, then all of that expertise is going to be dispersed and spread out thinly across the country. We’re going to lose a very important resource, a very important capacity that, as I said, it’s taken us 34 years to build.
Mr. Todd Russell: Thank you.
How much time, Mr. Chair?
The Chair: You only have 15 seconds. If someone had wanted to add just a very brief comment.
Ms. Dorothy Myo (Special Advisor to the Chief, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations): Good afternoon, Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
I think at the first nations community level, there is a going to be a huge loss in terms of having an institution that is there to transfer our indigenous knowledge to the next generation. That means our languages, our culture, our ceremonies, our practices will not have a mechanism how we will transfer it to both aboriginal students and non-aboriginal students.
The Chair: We’ll have to hold that thought there, and perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to continue with that comment further.
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