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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 je voudrais inviter M. Del Anaquod qui est le chef des opérations à l’Université des Premières Nations du Canada.

Monsieur Anaquod, vous avez cinq minutes pour votre présentation.

Mr. Del Anaquod (Chief Operating Officer, First Nations University of Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee.

I’ll keep my comments under five minutes. First off, this opportunity to talk to you about the success of the First Nations University of Canada I welcome. One of the problems we’ve had is getting our story out there.

Previous speakers have talked passionately about some of our successes. As I sit here today, I want to highlight again a number of those. The decision of the federal and provincial governments to cut off funding to First Nations University on April 1, 2010, directly impacts 2,000 students, 350 classes, over 200 employees that include the most aboriginal PhDs in Canada, 3300 graduates, 70 research projects, and the largest concentration of indigenous programming in the world.

Throughout its history, tens of thousands of students and business leaders have taken classes and courses at First Nations University of Canada. The government’s decision has far more wide-reaching impacts beyond this. It affects all Canadians and Saskatchewan citizens.

Our success. I would like to briefly highlight the impact of First Nations University’s success, which is our alumni. As previous speakers mentioned this afternoon, this is a measure of our success. Our alumni includes doctors, nurses, health care providers, teachers, dental therapists, business leaders, engineers, scientists, social workers, and lawyers. We have produced hundreds of civil servants for the federal and provincial work forces and another thousand for first nations governance.

First Nations University is one of the most successful producers of first nations taxpayers in Saskatchewan. Our university draws students from across Canada who contribute to the Saskatchewan economy and to our reputation in Canada and abroad. Thousands of non-first nations students have completed our courses as requirements in academic programs including justice, police studies, women’s studies, education, and social work. First Nations University provides the most unique program in the world. We offer bicultural education so that our students are completely qualified for work in the mainstream and have the additional training they need to serve in our communities.

I want to briefly touch on some of the budgetary shortfalls and jurisdictional issues we have faced since our inception. The true measure of a great institution is not only its successes but the obstacles and adversities it has overcome. Throughout our 34-year history, First Nations University has faced ongoing budgetary shortfalls due to federal and provincial jurisdictional disputes, and this in turn created uncertainty and hardship. Each has a role to play, the province for its jurisdiction over universities and the federal government for its responsibilities for Indians and lands reserved for Indians and its treaty and aboriginal rights and constitutional obligation under section 35.

Some of the past actions that have happened we take responsibility for. First Nations University has experienced internal governance and management issues. For this we take full responsibility. However, we should not allow the decisions of a few to affect the success of many. The new interim board and leadership have addressed governance and management problems. To shut down an institution that has had so many success stories and provides for the future of so many, based on the negative actions of a few, is unthinkable and irresponsible. It has taken many, many people to build this institution over a 34-year period and only a few to potentially destroy it.

Governments have chosen to highlight the actions of these few and ignore the success of the majority.

A challenging future. As Saskatchewan and Canadian citizens, we are facing many challenges. One is our youth and the future of our great country. In Saskatchewan, we have over 60,000 aboriginal youth in the first nations and provincial K to 12 system. As I sit here today, one out of every three students in Saskatchewan is aboriginal and this number is continuously on the rise. We are also facing a 50% dropout rate. Thirty thousand aboriginal youth will drop out in the next 10 years. Where will they go? Will they join the 2,000 street gang members we now have in the province or is the answer jails? Over 80% of our provincial jails are made up of aboriginal people. That’s not the answer.

We have close to 5,000 children currently out of home care; 75% are aboriginal. We struggle to find aboriginal foster homes for these children. Within these marginalized and frustrated youth, we are sewing the seeds of homegrown problems. As a Canadian, this is a statistic that I am not proud of and a future I do not relish.

The Chair: We’re over time there now, Mr. Anaquod, if you could just wrap up.

Mr. Del Anaquod: What is the answer?

One of the answers is First Nations University of Canada.

The First Nations University is a bridge between two cultures. The Queen, on her visit to our university in 2005, laid the foundation of that bridge by presenting us with a stone from Balmoral Castle. Let us not tear down that bridge. Let us ensure stable, long-term funding so that, as our graduates in the past, successive aboriginal generations will become productive and contributing Canadians.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Anaquod.

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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, je laisse la parole à Mme Vianne Timmons.

Vianne comes to us from the University of Regina. Vianne is the President and Vice-Chancellor. I believe she is joined by Gary Boire, who is here as well. Gary is the Vice-President Academic for the University of Regina.

Ms. Timmons, you have the floor for five minutes.

Ms. Viane Timmons (President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Regina): Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today. I want to acknowledge the chief of our first nations chiefs, Chief Lonechild.

I speak to you today as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina, and my words convey a shared vision passed on from my predecessors, the past presidents of the University of Regina. It’s a shared vision of First Nations University of Canada as an institution founded to enhance the quality of life, to preserve, protect, and interpret the history, language, culture, and artistic heritage of first nations people. Thirty-four years after its initial creation as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, First Nations University of Canada continues to fulfill this vision.

First Nations University of Canada is one of three federated colleges of the University of Regina. The University of Regina approves all First Nations University courses and provides quality assurance on all programs. First Nations University students graduate with a University of Regina degree. This is an innovative approach to the post-secondary education of aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, and it works. This unique educational model has been and remains very successful.

First Nations University enrollment has grown over the years; it stabilized the past year. In total, 40% of Saskatchewan’s aboriginal university students take courses through First Nations University, as well as more than 1,000 University of Regina students, many of them non-aboriginal and many of them from far beyond Saskatchewan. They broaden their knowledge of aboriginal culture by taking courses at First Nations University each year. For many these courses are required for their degree completion at the University of Regina.

First Nations University is not a segregated institution, but rather a unique Canadian institution that specializes in indigenous knowledge, something that is most definitely needed in Canada.

Today First Nations University offers 18 undergrad degree programs and more than 10 certificate diploma programs. It is a unique centre of indigenous knowledge in Canada. It has more than 3,000 alumni, aboriginal and non-aboriginal graduates alike, who contribute to our province and our country. The alumni are all around us, alumni like Joely Big Eagle, a civil engineer, as mentioned before, and First Nations University of Canada graduate, who’s committed to making a difference as the interim chair of First Nations University’s new board of governors.

First Nations University has recently experienced challenges, but they have been addressed. The University of Regina is committed to a new working relationship with our federated college First Nations University, one that provides management oversight of all operations.

I could provide for you a detailed and painful list of the effects that the federal government’s six-week notice of the withdrawal of funding will have on students, faculty, and staff of First Nations University of Canada, but I will not; I will share with you one story.

In Saskatoon I met a faculty member from First Nations University, a Cree woman my age. She’s very close to completing her Ph.D. She’s the sole provider for her grandchildren. This pulling of funding will mean she will not be able to afford to complete her degree and will likely lose her home. She’s terribly afraid because she knows the impact this decision will have on her grandchildren, and there are many more such stories.

Without federal government support for First Nations University, any gains made over the past 34 years will be lost, and lost forever. Fewer aboriginal learners will realize the benefits of post-secondary education, and Canada will be a less inclusive society as a result. That is not what I want for aboriginal and non-aboriginal students alike, and it’s not what I want for my or your children and grandchildren.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Timmons.

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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.

The Chair: Next, we introduce and welcome, Diane Adams. Diane is a representative for First Nations University of Canada Student Association.

I will just at this point, for the benefit of all witnesses, as well, as a reminder, we do simultaneous translation through the course of your remarks. So the pace at which you speak, if it’s just even slightly slower than you normally talk, our interpreters will be able to keep up with the translation.

And I see you’ve got your listening devices all in check there, so that’s great.

Ms. Adams, please go ahead. Five minutes.

Mrs. Diane J. Adams (Representative, First Nations University of Canada Student Association): Hi, there.

My name is Diane Adams, and I am a Métis woman from Sioux Lookout, Ontario in the Treaty #3 Territory. And I am the president of the First Nations University of Canada Student Association in Regina.

Today I am sitting before you, representing the 2,000 students currently taking classes at the First Nations University of Canada. We currently have 400 classes going on at three campuses: one in Regina, one in Saskatoon, and our northern campus in Prince Albert.

My first and foremost objective today is to illuminate why it is imperative that the federal government commit sustained multi-year funding to the First Nations University and how important it is. We’re receiving $7.2 million and we can only build from there.

I’ve come here today to not only share my own experiences but also the accomplishments of our prominent and successful students and alumni. My own educational journey began at a mainstream institution but two years ago I picked up and moved to Regina to study environmental health and science at the First Nations University of Canada. This is the only place in Canada that I can obtain the specialized education I need to pursue a career as an environmental health specialist for first nations communities, developing innovative, culturally acceptable, and economically feasible solutions to the health problems associated with water, sewer, and housing infrastructure on reserves.

That is what the First Nations University is all about–innovation through bicultural educational. It is a place where knowledge is shared and students go forward with the best of both worlds. The sharing of knowledge is the most important thing to our students, so they can come out with dual skills sets; how to succeed in both mainstream society and with their own first nations traditions.

Last October the students were very pleased when the FSIN Chiefs and Assembly elected Guy Lonechild as their leader because he had actively campaigned to bring changes to the First Nations University, the same changes that the students had been calling for, for some time. When the FSIN dissolved the board and put our own respected academics in charge, we knew this was the beginning of a new era of accountable, transparent, and qualified governance and leadership at our institution.

So while this new era of change for the First Nations University is here, we cannot go forward without the commitment of the $7.2 million that our university had historically been receiving. We cannot go forward without that.

The First Nations University has taught many prominent first nations and non-first nations students over the years. Our students have gone on to be lawyers, doctors, politicians, nurses, managers, and social workers, just to name a few. One of our alumni, Alika Lafontaine, won the prestigious Canada’s next great prime minister contest and is now a medical doctor currently specializing in anaesthesiology. Connie Walker is an accomplished journalist working for CBC’s The National. We have a provincial deputy minister. And our alumnus, Perry Bellegarde, ran a campaign for national chief of the AFN last year.

Countless others have completed their graduate degrees and Ph.Ds. And in the past five years, our nursing program has graduated 71 nurses who are now working in their northern communities. And we have the only school of dental therapy in the country.

That is just a sample of the many reasons that committed, sustained multi-year funding must be immediately restored to the First Nations University of Canada.

As a student, I must point out that no other university in the country relies on or could operate on an annual proposal-based funding for its core operation. We could not attract or keep the quality of students I just mentioned on year-to-year funding. Degrees take four years to complete and all students know that.

I’d like to just close by reminding the committee that it is the educators at this university who are teaching a new generation of first nations leaders the value of accountable, transparent, and qualified governance in leadership. Tom Benjoe was a fellow student association member and last year he was named the Red Cross young humanitarian of the year and has received more than 30 regional, provincial, and national scholarships. He wanted me to relay this to you today, and I quote,

I strongly believe that change has come. As future first nations leaders we are proving how education is changing the landscape for our futures and we are demanding greater accountability and transparency both for our institutions and for our communities. The First Nations University is helping develop those changes and so it is only fitting that the change must begin there.

The First Nations University needs that sustained multi-year funding from the federal government. If this is not the case, the Canadian government is sending a strong message to the students of the First Nations University of Canada, to the next generation of young leaders that accountable and transparent conduct will not influence the government decision making when it comes to financial matters.

With that, I pray to this committee and the Canadian government to lead by example and give value to our commitment to accountability and transparency by reinstating a minimum of $7.2 million directed to the First Nations University of Canada.

Thank you.

Le président: Merci, madame Adams.

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March 27 & 28th, 2010
Brandt Centre, Evraz Place
Regina, Saskatchewan

Download Poster Here

For more information, see the First Nations University web site.

As the first Pow Wow of the year, this much anticipated event is also considered one of the biggest Pow Wows in Saskatchewan, attracting more than 7,000 visitors and participants from across Canada and the United States. Since it first began in 1978, the pow wow has been held every year to celebrate cultural diversity, to unify families and communities, and to demonstrate First Nations traditions through a wide variety of song and dance styles.

The celebration of spring announces new life and gives thanks for sharing in the rebirth of the land. Our students initiated this event thirty years ago and are still a big part of the celebration as volunteers and head staff.

The proceeds from this year’s event goes toward establishing a second scholarship prize.

Building Community Spirit

With the help of over 150 volunteers, the First Nations University of Canada Pow Wow has become one of Regina’s largest spring tourist attractions. In strengthening community relations, all involvement from the Elders, the arts and crafts organizations, the corporate and non-profit organizations, the Regina Police Service, and local businesses contributes to the community spirit of this event.

While the First Nations University of Canada Pow Wow proves to be a powerful way to heighten awareness of First Nation culture with non-First Nations and other ethnic community groups, it also provides a tremendous amount of publicity not only for the First Nations University of Canada, but also for the city and the province.

Eagle Sponsor: Access Communications

Access Communications proudly presents a 3-hour broadcast of the pow wow on ACCESS TV, starting with the grand entry at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2010.

DVDs will be available. More information to be announced.

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Dear and Honourable Member of Parliament Mr. Tom Lukewski,

I am writing concerning the news of the possible closure of the First Nations University of Canada due to withdrawal of funding. As an alumni of the University of Regina graduating in 1998, we witnessed the birth of the new building and experienced the college operating side by side within the University of Regina. I think most alumni would agree that this was a point of unique interest and pride. As a student one of my reasons for choosing Regina was the fact that it was a focal point for the ongoing struggle towards the resolution of racial and cultural strife. Having been born in Saskatchewan I am proud to have been involved in working with the Aboriginal community in the field of the arts with the Mackenzie art gallery and in volunteer projects with the Bahai Community in the north central neighbourhood working with under-privileged children.

As an overseas Canadian I often talk about these experiences and the challenges and rewards they provided. I am struck still by the generosity of spirit I received from the Aboriginal community who, regardless of their circumstances, consistently demonstrate a patience and sense of community often far outstripping that of the wider society. It is my passionate belief that we cannot let the rest of the country decide the destiny of our province. It is our community, our responsibility and duty, no one else’s. The idea of a university represents a higher ideal, a striving for betterment and a belief that progress is possible and inevitable. This is what the First Nations University means to Regina, to Saskatchewan, to Canada and to the world.

I can only beseech you on my behalf, however I believe and know that anyone who searches for the truth of the matter can only conclude that withdrawing moral, financial and administrative support from First Nations University can only be perceived as a return to ignorance, fear and division and will contribute to the further disintegration of the fabric of a stable society.

Trusting that you will take this singular opportunity to join the ranks of the brave, to uphold and defend the virtues of Truth and Justice.

With sincerity and hope.

Vincent Twardzik Ching
Canadian Citizen and Permanent Resident of Singapore

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March 1, 2010

The Honourable Chuck Strahl
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Fax: (613) 944-9376

Dear Mr. Strahl,

I am a faculty member at the First Nations University of Canada, writing to you about your recent decision to withdraw funding from the institution.

I am one of the faculty members included in the oft-cited but inaccurate statistic that one third of the faculty left in 2005. While it is true that I did take a leave of absence from the institution at that time, I have never publicly disclosed my reasons for doing so, which are complex and personal, just like the reasons anyone might have for leaving one employer for another. Furthermore, not mentioned in the ridiculously overblown reports of a mass exodus from First Nations University is the number of individuals who have eventually returned, including myself. It is true that there are many challenges we face at First Nations University, and problems with the operation of the institution, especially at the administrative and governance levels. However, the problems we have can be solved, and are being solved. Meanwhile, there is much of exceptional value at the institution, particularly at the core level of academic integrity, programming relevant to Aboriginal students and communities, teachers attuned to the particular needs of Aboriginal students, and faculty and staff adept at stretching our resources to accomplish far more than what our limited means would normally entail.

After a three-year leave of absence from First Nations University, I turned down other offers of employment and returned to First Nations University because I can see the enormous potential of the institution. First Nations University provides an invaluable niche in the landscape of post-secondary education in Canada. Our institution has a focus on Aboriginal education at the university level that no other institution comes close to matching, especially not big institutions like the University of Saskatchewan (UofS) or the University of Toronto (UofT). I know well what is required to succeed as an Aboriginal student at institutions like those, being a graduate in the PhD program in pure mathematics at UofT myself, and I know that a huge number of intelligent, capable, and deserving Aboriginal students will never succeed in such alienating environments no matter how many counselors are provided.

Let us consider the choice facing your government at the moment. In the worst-case scenario, complete withdrawal of funding with no recourse will result in the immediate collapse of the institution. Your government will be the first government in Canadian history to preside over the closing of a university. An Aboriginal university no less, one with a proud thirty-four year long history, impeccable academic credentials, unique and thriving programming including the only environmental health program in the prairies and the only fully-equipped water quality laboratory in the country (if not the entire planet) under the control of Aboriginal peoples to cite just two examples, ongoing complex and sophisticated community-based research programs, the synergy that comes from so many experts on Aboriginal issues together under one roof, and on and on.

In the worst-case scenario, over three thousand graduates, many leaders in their communities and net contributors to Aboriginal society and Canadian society in general, will be orphaned with no institution to call their alma mater. Donors, including not only the aforementioned alumni, but also corporations who have contributed tens of millions of dollars to our capital campaigns and special programs and projects, will see their generosity instantly rendered nearly worthless by the actions of your government. Governments, federal and provincial, including your own, which have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to our institution over the years, will similarly see their investments devalued to nothing compared to what they would be if the institution continued to operate, a staggering loss for the taxpayers you purport to defend.

In the worst-case scenario, our nearly one thousand current students will not simply be able to “walk across the street” to another institution because much of our programming is not offered at University of Regina (UofR) or the UofS; rather, those students will have to start over in new programs, delaying their graduations by years (thousands of person-years of lost time). Visiting students (mainly from the UofR) who are taking majors in programs only offered at our institution such as Linguistics or Indigenous Studies will lose the years of effort they have invested in those programs; all UofR students will lose the option to take courses which are unique in their content or in their delivery (such as our gentler approach to mathematics, which covers the same content as the UofR but in a more personal and nurturing environment, without which many students would otherwise fail). Community-based research programs funded by federal or provincial agencies such as SSHRC will be fatally compromised or at least delayed by months or years. And the economies of Regina and Prince Albert will be damaged and will experience a loss of diversity as Aboriginal professionals and others leave to seek opportunities elsewhere.

On the other hand, in the best case scenario we continue to not only to survive, but to thrive, fixing our governance problems with the guidance of the excellent Begay report, fittingly subtitled, “An opportunity to lead the world in First Nations higher education.” Better governance will lead to better administration, which will enable us to recruit the finest Aboriginal faculty and administrators from around the world to a solid and promising institution. First Nations University could be a world leader in community-based research, our specialty, saving Aboriginal languages, improving Aboriginal health, safeguarding the long term collective memory of Aboriginal communities, and graduating productive members of society who might otherwise have led lives of despair.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about the crisis now facing us is that the best case scenario is finally so close at hand we can almost touch it. We, the faculty, community members, and students of First Nations University, are not asking for a carte blanche, but just for a chance to prove what we are capable of if we have a solid foundation of good governance and good administration. We are confident that we can not only make this institution work, but that we can create an internationally recognized leader in Aboriginal education.

We hope that you fully understand what is at stake in the discussions currently under way regarding the future of our institution, but we have our doubts, as you have never even paid us a visit.

When HRH Prince Edward opened our new building in 2003, he said, “This is indeed a very historic day and a great milestone for all of us, for the nation of Canada as well as the First Nations.” What shall we say when you close our building?

I’i wa’khyaton’

Dr. Edward Doolittle
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Department of Science
First Nations University of Canada

cc:
Stephen Harper, PM
Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Opposition
Ray Boughen, MP for Palliser
Ralph Goodale, MP for Wascana
Todd Russell, Liberal Indian Affairs critic
Jean Crowder, NDP Indian Affairs critic
Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Premier
Rob Norris, Saskatchewan Minister for Advanced Education
John Nilson, Saskatchewan MLA for Regina Lakeview
Cam Broten, Saskatchewan NDP Advanced Education critic
Guy Lonechild, Grand Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
FNUniv faculty and students

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Shannon Avison is an Assistant Professor and Department Head of Indian Communication Arts (INCA). She also administers and teaches courses for the Intercultural Leadership Program (ILP). Shannon completed her MA in Media Studies at Concordia University, while on education leave from the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC). She also has a BA Philosophy, a BA High Honours in Indian Studies, and a certificate in INCA. Her thesis, Aboriginal Newspapers: Their contribution to the emergence of an Aboriginal public sphere, and her work with Aboriginal broadcasters, inform her teaching in courses including Aboriginal Media in Canada (INCA 283), Management Communication (ADMN 205) and Intercultural Leadership (ILP 100). Shannon coordinates the delivery of the INCA Summer Institute in Journalism (INCA 200) which has produced journalists including Michelle Hugli (The Afternoon Edition, CBC Radio), Nelson Bird (Indigenous Circle, CTV), Connie Walker (The National, CBC Toronto), Miranda Hanus (Missinipi Radio), Priscilla Wolfe (APTN), Kerry Benjoe (Regina Leader-Post). She also coordinates internships in communications, journalism, multimedia and leadership. Shannon serves on the SaskFilm board of directors and the CTV Indigenous Circle advisory council. She has produced video projects including the Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ videography project, Treaty Elders Governance and Leadership series, Saskatchewan First Nations for the Vancouver Olympics, SaskScene and Centennial Scene, as well as student television productions like Inside the Circle.

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