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From an article by Stephen LaRose published on rabble.ca on April 13, 2010.

The province has agreed to bring back its funding — after FNUC signed a four-year deal with the University of Regina, allowing the university to handle FNUC’s money, which was where many of the battles over FNUC’s control by the FSIN occurred, and which was roasted in Westerlund’s report.

But Ottawa has thought otherwise. Four days after the chiefs’ congress removed the board of governors, Strahl announced that INAC would suspend its $7.2 million operating payment to the college. The transitional funding announced March 30 probably pays for the severance packages of professors, who will be eagerly picked up by other universities and colleges in Canada. As for the students, they get squat.

“In reality, it means the end of First Nations University,” says Jim Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. (Officials from FNUC, the student council and officials from the FSIN were unavailable for comment as the story went to press.)

Strahl’s announcement does little good for FNUC’s current students. Take Swan, for example. FNUC has one of the three aboriginal linguistics programs in Canada he requires to earn his degree in his area of specialization. But if and when FNUC closes its doors, Strahl’s plan calls for students enrolled in his program to move to another university. Except, in Swan’s case, the nearest university — the U of Regina — doesn’t have an indigenous studies department, so where does he go to complete his education?

Read the full article on rabble.ca.

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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: We now go to our second videoconference witness, and that will be Mr. Lorne Dennis.

I’m going to ask our other two witnesses, who are joining us by videoconference, you’ll have to turn your microphone off so that Mr. Dennis will be able to join us with his being on. So we’ll do our best. That would be Minister Norris and Ms. Macdonald, make sure your microphone buttons are off, and we’ll see if we can get Mr. Dennis up on line here.

Mr. Dennis.

Mr. Lorne Dennis (As an Individual): All right, coming through.

The Chair: So it works when we want it to.

You’ve heard the audio here, Mr. Dennis. Delighted that you could join us here this afternoon from Edmonton. Members may know that Mr. Dennis is a former CFO for the university.

Mr. Dennis, you have five minutes for your presentation.

Mr. Lorne Dennis: Thank you so much.

And thank you for giving me, as an individual, the opportunity to actually address the committee. As I’m not representing any group, I suspect the flavour of my comments may be somewhat different than what you’ll hear from others, and I beg your forgiveness if I may not be quite as politically correct as some.

The issue I’d like to address is if there is a significant long-term value in keeping FNUC open and operational.

And let me give you a little bit of background as to why I have anything at all to say on this topic. I became connected with the First Nations University of Canada in the first half of 2004 and the last half of 2005 when I was under contract to the school. I was indeed the senior financial officer.

I came to FNUC as a skeptic. I was a management consultant, an MBA with a 15-year history dealing with businesses in crisis–bankruptcies, insolvencies, and turnarounds. I had seen it all from the perspective of bad management and I was led to believe that I would see more of it at FNUC.

I found the school to be a place of extremes. I was impressed with the overall competence of the staff. I was also profoundly struck by their commitment and passion for the school. Conversely, I was extremely frustrated by the ongoing interference of the FSIN, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, in both operations and financial processes.

I worked at the school for about a year. In July of 2005, following Dr. Dr. Eber Hampton’s retirement as president of FNUC, I was instructed to use funds belonging to Dr. Hampton’s Indigenous Peoples Health Research Center for FNUC operations. I refused, and offered my resignation, or perhaps more accurately, I terminated my contract at that time. So that’s my connection.

Why is FNUC important? From my perspective, let me make a couple of general comments. Higher education is aligned with greater employment opportunities within Canadian society. If we are going to be concerned about growing aboriginal employment, post-secondary education for aboriginal peoples needs to be preserved and developed.

Those of us in the west and the north are painfully aware of the need for both skilled aboriginal workers and aboriginal professionals. First Nations people understandably and correctly demand that they be participants in northern development but they need the educational and intercultural tools to do so.

First Nations population growth is explosive, running at six times the national average. Where aboriginal peoples exercise control over their own education, success rates are dramatically improved. However, aboriginal involvement in post-secondary education still lags well behind that of the non-aboriginal population. FNUC, I would suggest, is a bright light in this relative darkness.

First Nations, Métis, and other indigenous peoples’ success in higher education will breed more success, and it will also fuel our country’s economic engine. As a corollary, it will reduce social assistance.

Let me make some FNUC-specific comments. First Nations University of Canada is a unique institution, growing out of the Indian Federated College, founded by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. When it became FNUC, that expanded to include all indigenous people of Canada. Its staff and faculty are almost all first nations and Métis, and are competent as well as committed. Nevertheless, the school is not exclusive. It offers higher education in a first nations-friendly environment, but provides that education not just to first nations folks but to all who choose to attend.

A culturally compatible education at FNUC provides the tools for first nations and Métis people to achieve academically. A vanilla, heterogeneous approach is much less successful than a culturally compatible or culturally relevant program.

What I observed at FNUC was that they empower students intellectually, socially, and emotionally. The school uses specific first nations culture, including cultural objects and symbols, to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The school’s faculty create a bridge between first nations students’ experience and their education, while still meeting the needs of the curriculum. Its approach to teaching utilizes first nations background, knowledge, and experience to frame and help inform each professor’s lessons and methodology. Then the experience is reinforced through its own affirmation of first nations culture, and it works.

Now, in my opinion, using the current governance structure or indeed any governance structure that gives a political organization control will not succeed.

Points have been made before with regard to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and their longstanding issues. as well as NFU’s volatile history, clearly shows a governance incompatibility with regard to the school and its political masters.

The Chair: Mr. Dennis, if I could just ask you to sort of sum up now. We are a bit over time, so if you could just bring it to a close, that would be great.

Mr. Lorne Dennis: Thank you.

I guess the question then becomes is it wiser to repair or to allow the broken institution to die and then start fresh. While a green field approach can be attractive, in the business world it’s an option that’s seldom chosen. It’s much more difficult to start a new business than to save one that’s not completely gone.

Apart from politics, NFUC has been a success in every way. Rather than ignoring those success and giving up on the vision, I strongly believe we should be remedying the clear and identifiable problems and then moving forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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

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March 20, 2010

An Open Letter to the Elected Officials of Saskatchewan and Canada:

I write this as a long-time faculty member of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) / First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv). I have been a member of the Department of Indian Languages, Literatures and Linguistics for almost 17 years, and have served for the past year and a half as the Department Head, though I am spending this term on a pre-arranged leave as a guest researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

There are so many issues that I could address in this letter. As a faculty member, I have witnessed one crisis after another through the past five years as we all have tried to continue the work for which we were hired, hoping that changes would finally be made to bring First Nations University back in line with its original vision and allow our reputation to once again move forward along with the work we have continued to accomplish. The AUCC attempted to help us with this and some progress was made, but clearly not enough despite the lifting of AUCC censure. CAUT then stepped in with their own censure, controversial at best among faculty, but with the good intentions of forcing the changes necessary. But the AUCC and CAUT are not governments. Through this period the faculty and students had waited for the necessary changes, perhaps waiting for the provincial and federal governments to intervene in a helpful way. But we saw nothing. It is very surprising to me to continually hear now from our provincial and federal officials about all the efforts that have been made to bring about reform within FNUniv governance, when those efforts were largely internal and did not seem ever to include anything helpful from government. Only in the past few months, with serious allegations of mismanagement of funds, have the provincial and federal governments seen fit to make an effort. And instead of helpful, the first real acts are to essentially threaten the complete destruction of the entire educational institution that is FNUniv in a belated “effort” to right the wrongs of the past administration and governance. Now, conditions have been set, and are being met with astonishing speed and skill by a dedicated group of educators from FNUniv and the University of Regina, our new Board of Governors, and government officials. But despite these efforts, we are still threatened with an end of funding and thus an end to the institution. The effort only seems to be lacking on one side of this situation.

These are important issues, but they are being addressed by many others with more knowledge and expertise in these areas than I. For my part, I wish to inform you of the unique programs of my department which are not going to be matched by any other institution, regardless of the rhetoric we have heard about First Nations students receiving equal opportunities elsewhere. First Nations language classes were among the cornerstones of SIFC upon its founding in 1976 and within 10 years the dedicated individuals at this institution had created a full Department of Indian Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics. Through further refinement, not only have we been offering language courses in all of the First Nations languages of Saskatchewan – Cree, Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwa), Nakota (Assiniboine), Dakota, and (through our northern campus extension) Dene – but the first and only full degree programs in any Canadian First Nations languages were built here for Cree and Saulteaux. These programs are matched nowhere else. The dedication of such individuals as the late Dr. Ahab Spence, Dr. Jean Okimāsis, and Margaret Cote, and of their students including Solomon Ratt, Doreen Oakes, and Lorena Cote, has kept this a vibrant and growing department, while many more of their students are teaching their languages and creating language programs in their communities. We have worked with our colleagues in the Department of Indigenous Education as they have built corresponding language teaching certificate, diploma, and minor programs, as well as a new Cree immersion program, to address the great need for language teachers. We have most recently been working on minor programs for Nakota, Dakota and Dene as contributions to expanding the scope of the Indigenous Education programs to meet the needs of all the language groups of our province and beyond. At this time of supposed reconciliation for the disastrous effects of the residential school system, language is the last great issue remaining to be addressed by the governments of this land, and we at FNUniv have been anticipating this by working under constrained budgets to build just the kind of programs needed by First Nations people in their attempts to reclaim and revitalize their languages. At a time when programs such as these should see increased funding, instead we are faced with ceasing to exist because of funding cuts and the misguided belief that any other institution is capable of offering what we offer.

During the early period of SIFC’s growth, another Cree scholar, Freda Ahenakew was beginning her work in Cree language instruction and text collection, for which both the University of Saskatchewan and University of Manitoba have since bestowed upon her honorary doctorates. At the time, however, there was no place for a First Nations language instructor at the U of S, let alone a language program, and she needed to leave the province to work at the University of Manitoba and help build a small Cree language program there. Dr. Ahenakew’s major academic contributions have been in the publication of Cree texts, and the inspiration of many students (including myself) who have chosen a career working with First Nations languages in one capacity or another. In addition to the aforementioned doctorates, she has been recognized by First Nations and non-First Nations people alike, at the provincial (Saskatchewan Order of Merit) and federal levels (National Aboriginal Achievement Award; Order of Canada). Although garnering less attention from the Saskatchewan and Canadian governments, Dr. Jean Okimāsis has similarly achieved recognition for her accomplishments and dedication to her language and culture, and among other awards was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Regina. These two woman, and many others who have struggled to help their people maintain their languages, should continue to be recognized for the shining examples they have set. Instead, at this time, a very large part of what they and their students have built is being threatened. This is not only unacceptable, it is unconscionable. The decision to cut funding to FNUniv must be reversed so that we may continue our important work to support and revitalize the First Nations languages of Saskatchewan and Canada. There is no replacement if these programs cannot continue.

In conjunction with our language programs, FNUniv offers a full Linguistics program and it is unique among Canadian Linguistics programs in the high percentage of First Nations language content. Although the program itself has continued to expand, funding limitations at FNUniv and the University of Regina have never allowed it to grow beyond three full-time faculty, all at FNUniv. Despite this, we had until recently managed to offer a small Masters program, one which even produced a Rhodes scholar, Dr. Lindsay Morcom, who has just completed her doctorate at Oxford. Many other students have experienced success in graduate programs in Linguistics and Speech Pathology and Audiology programs throughout Canada. The students who come through our program, in large part non-First Nations people, are uniquely equipped with knowledge and understanding of First Nations language and culture which is invaluable to them in their future work in Canadian communities. These are educated and enlightened individuals of the type diametrically opposed to those displaying outrageous levels of ignorance and downright racism on the news blogs of our country’s media outlets during the past few years of crisis. Our students could teach these poor uneducated individuals a few things. Our faculty can teach them much, but not if the current funding decisions mean the demise of our programs.

Beyond our programs at FNUniv, our Linguistics Faculty have connections to teaching and research institutions throughout the world. Dr. Jan van Eijk and now retired Professor Emeritus Dr. Brent Galloway are experts in Interior and Coast Salish languages respectively and between the two of them they have published extensively and have connections to institutions such as UBC (Vancouver), Berkeley (California) and Leiden (Netherlands) to name a few. Our newest faculty member, Dr. Olga Lovick has contacts in numerous Athapaskan First Nations communities and ties to die Universität zu Köln (Cologne, Germany) and the Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska (Fairbanks). I myself work extensively with Cree communities and have research partnerships with Miyo Wahkohtowin Community Education Authority at Ermineskin Cree Nation (Alberta; the Cree Online Dictionary Project) and Dr. Marie-Odile Junker at Carleton University (Ottawa, and East Cree communities in Quebec; the Cree Atlas Project). Additionally, my research through de Universiteit van Amsterdam has also provided me with extensive research networks including colleagues here and at Aarhus Universitet (Denmark), la Universidad de Oviedo (Spain), and a Universidade Estadual Paulista (Brazil). These are important national and international connections that are under threat of being cut along with the funding to First Nations University. Again I must ask: where exactly can anyone reasonably expect our students to go to get this unique blend of Canadian and international perspective?

The University of Saskatchewan does not have such programs, and the considerably smaller Linguistics program at the U of S is virtually devoid of First Nations content. The language component at the U of S consists of two Cree courses that have been in place for over 25 years, without addition. Furthermore, for the last 10 years plus, for the Cree classes that the U of S has taught, FNUniv has supplied the instructors. The Universities of Manitoba, Alberta, and Calgary, with far larger Linguistics components, do not have programs the equal of ours in First Nations perspective. Smaller programs as at Lethbridge and Brandon have scholars who attempt, through their duties in “Modern Languages” programs, to address First Nations language issues within the constraints of their respective programs, but again they cannot match our programs dedicated to First Nations languages.

First Nations University is the center for First Nations languages and Linguistics in Saskatchewan and beyond. We can be that center for the entire country. Taking the exact opposite approach at this moment in Canadian history is a foolhardy mistake that could have dire consequences for First Nations Education, the health of Saskatchewan and Canadian society, and Canada’s reputation internationally. I would like to personally thank the opposition parties for their unanimous support of our institution and their understanding of the importance of FNUniv to First Nations Education at all levels. And I urge the Provincial Government of Saskatchewan and the minority Conservative Government of Canada to reconsider their current position on First Nations University and restore funding to allow us to do the important work that is so obviously necessary for our society.

ahāw, ēkosi.

Arok Wolvengrey
Associate Professor, Department Head
Indian Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics
First Nations University of Canada
1 First Nations Way
Regina, SK
S4S 7K2

awolvengrey@firstnationsuniversity.ca

cc: Del Anaquod, Chief Operating Officer, FNUniv
Joely BigEagle, Chair, Board of Governors, FNUniv
Randy Lundy, Chair, Academic Council, FNUniv
Diane Adams, President, Students’ Association, FNUniv
Chief Guy Lonechild, Chief, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Dr. Vianne Timmons, President, University of Regina
Brian Wildcat, Director, Miyo Wahkohtowin Community Education Authority
Dr. Marie-Odile Junker, Carleton University
Dr. Kees Hengeveld, Universiteit van Amsterdam
Dr. Peter Bakker, Aarhus Universitet
Dr. Daniel García Velasco, Universidad de Oviedo
Dr. Marize Dall’Aglio-Hattnher, Universidade Estadual Paulista

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To the Members of Parliament of Canada
Dear Legislators:

I am a senior faculty member in the Department of Indigenous Studies, the Head of the Arts and Sciences Department, and the Director of the Centre for International Academic Exchange at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv). I am writing to you to appeal for support for the restoration of funding to the FNUniv, which has been cut by the Province of Saskatchewan and by the Federal Government. These actions are doing great harm to the viability of the FNUniv and to the future well being of First Nations and Aboriginal people of Saskatchewan and Canada, and may have far reaching consequences for future relations between Aboriginal and other Canadians. On February 2-3 of this year I attended the AUCC meetings in Ottawa, which brought together International Liaison Officers from universities across Canada. There we discussed creating partnerships with developing countries for education exchange and community development, including Canadian support for establishing universities overseas. Yet, at the same time plans were in place to dismantle the only Indigenous operated and controlled university in Canada. This is unsupportable.

The First Nations University of Canada came into being 35 years ago through a desire by First Nations Chiefs and Elders of Saskatchewan to provide their people with quality post-secondary education, combining both Western and Indigenous perspectives within a First Nations social and spiritual environment. It was the first Indian controlled university/college in the world, and is a model for Aboriginal education nationally and internationally. Yet, today that reputation is being systematically destroyed. Such an action is a disgrace to our country, and is bound to harm our national and international reputation. While alternatives are being put forward to take care of the students within mainline universities, such a plan will not take the place of the FNUniv as a unique institution of higher learning serving a largely disadvantaged and misunderstood segment of the Canadian population. These are not viable solutions. The only solution is to put in place long-term and equitable funding support to ensure the continuity of FNUniv for the benefit of the Province and society at large.

Respectfully Yours,

R. W. Heber, Ph.D.
Full Professor

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