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From a letter by Catherine Verrall published in the Leader-Post of April 20, 2010.

Late that night, in a special sharing circle, we heard the wisdom and vision and determination of the students. We told them: “The whole world is watching you . . . as you peacefully demand that this world-unique university and its values survive stronger than ever . . . for the well-being of all our children, and the planet. We are so inspired by you and so honoured to be welcomed here.”

FNUniv students made a respectful move-in to their university home. They have vowed to stay until the federal government fulfills its responsibility and restores full funding. Only then can this priceless university continue into the future, beyond Aug. 31.

Read the full letter in the Leader-Post.

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Professor Edward Doolittle of First Nations University is featured on CBC’s The Story from Here on April 14, 2010, speaking about the current financial crisis and its effect on faculty.

The audio file is available at CBC.ca.

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From an article by Patrick White in the Globe and Mail of Tuesday, April 13, 2010.

At a celebration of the school’s academic research on Wednesday, teachers will lecture on topics ranging from the geometry of teepees to songbirds to native plants. It’s part of an effort to persuade Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl that the university is a serious academic institution that deserves to have its funding restored.

“Minister Strahl has made some degrading comments about the university in the last few months and he’s really off base there,” said Jesse Archibald-Barber, an English professor at the school who will give a lecture comparing Mr. Strahl with Duncan Campbell Scott, the head of Indian Affairs between 1913 and 1932 who championed native residential schools. “This conference is a response to those remarks and him calling into question our academic integrity. We have the largest concentration of first nations PhDs in the country. It’s frightening to think that could just dissipate.”

Read the full article in the Globe and Mail.

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A message from First Nations University Board of Governors chair Joely Bigeagle:

Good morning FNUniv students, staff and faculty,

Currently, we are facing some difficult and overwhelming challenges with respect to restructuring and downsizing. The board is currently reviewing a business case strategy addressing the short and mid-term plans of FNUniv.

At this time we all need to rely on our ceremonies and culture to lean on.

Fortunately, Reona Brass, Dr. Oliver Brass’s daughter, has the insight to ask for a sweat for the women this Sunday April 11 at 1:00 pm at the Paul Dojack centre area. I invite all the women and ask that you ask our supporters to come to the sweat, bring food and tobacco and cloth if needed. I am requesting that the men, if they feel it is necessary, prepare a sweat for the men due to the extreme stresses and pressures we are all under.

There will be another women’s ceremony this month as well as another co-ed ceremony to be announced later, as outcomes of the last sweat of March 20. Please forgive the message as presented via email vs in person as is customary and preferred.

I will provide a formal Board of Governors update in the following weeks.

Joely BigEagle, Chair
FNUniv Board of Governors

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March 30, 2010

Dear Minister Strahl:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association of the United States, I ask you to reconsider your current position in regards to the Canadian federal government’s announced cutting of the $7.2 million annual grant to the First Nations University as of March 31, 2010. The situation of the First Nations University came to my awareness through our shared affiliation with the Canadian Association of University Teachers in Education International, the global union federation for education.

The closing of First Nations University would be a tragedy for aboriginal students in Canada who directly benefit from the cultural sensitivity represented in its unique mission. First Nations University emphasizes tribal cultures and languages and includes elders as lecturers and support service staff. At a time when we acknowledge the harm caused by education policies in the past toward First Nations peoples of Canada and Native Americans in the United States, withdrawing funding of First Nations University further endangers these most vulnerable and underprivileged communities.

This is a population in dire need of more college and university graduates. It is likely that many students currently attending First Nations University will end their post-secondary education rather than continuing at a mainstream university. Nationally, only 3 percent of Canadian First Nations people have university degrees versus 18 percent for the general population. We urge you to support renewed funding for First Nations University and re-establish internationally recognized obligations with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Sincerely,
Dennis Van Roekel
President

cc: David Robinson, Assoc. Executive Dir., Canadian Association of University Teachers
Fred van Leeuwen, Education International

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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: Now we’ll go to our final witness and certainly by no means the least, we have joining us from the University of Victoria, the Executive Director for the University, Nikki Macdonald.

Ms. Macdonald, we just need your mike button on there and we’ll see if we can get you here on video conference.

Ms. Nikki Macdonald (Executive Director, University of Victoria): Okay, I’m on. Can you hear me?

The Chair: We’ve got your audio. Okay, there we are. That’s good. We’ve got you live here on both video and audio.

As you’ve probably heard, we have approximately five minutes for your presentation and to all of our witness after this presentation we’ll go to questions from members.

Please go ahead, you have the floor.

Ms. Nikki Macdonald: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you to members for the opportunity for the University of Victoria to speak to you today.

Dr. Lalonde and I are here to speak about broader opportunities for first nation students in post-secondary education and in particular, to share with the committee today the great success we’ve had here at the University of Victoria.

Our success over the past decade has been increasing the number of first nation students at the University of Victoria from 64 students in 2000 to over 700 students in both graduate and undergraduate programs today. I will provide you with a brief overview of some of those innovative programs at UVic and then Dr. Lalonde will speak specifically to the LE,NONET Project, which is a national research program that has been under way at the University of Victoria for the past six years. He will share with you a preview of some final results of that program.

In 1996, as part of its strategic plan, the University of Victoria made a commitment to develop innovative ways to make our programs more accessible for first nations peoples. This commitment has led to a number of innovative programs on campus, including: community outreach programs to aboriginal youth to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math skills; many use student camps; an elders’ program on campus to support students, faculty, and staff; an aboriginal teacher education program; and, more recently, the opening of First Peoples House which creates a welcoming and inviting environment for UVic aboriginal students that respects and acknowledges their cultures and value.

We also continue to work to further the partnership through research with organizations such as: the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research; the Aboriginal Transitions Research Project, which is examining how to support students in their transition to public post-secondary institutions; and, the First Nations Partnership program which trains community members in early childhood care and education in their communities, thus incorporating traditional knowledge and practices with the UVic School of Child Care and Youth Care curriculum.

These are just a few of the programs on campus at UVic and Dr. Lalonde is going to speak more specifically to LE,NONET, the research project.

Dr. Chris Lalonde (As an Individual): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and committee members.

I want to begin by acknowledging that I’m speaking to you from the traditional territories of the Coast and Strait Salish peoples, and I’ve been asked to give an overview of the LE,NONET Project.

LE,NONET is a Sencoten word, a Strait Salish word, that means, roughly, “success after enduring many hardships”. It was a pilot project funded by the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, with the aim of enhancing the success of aboriginal undergraduate students at the University of Victoria.

This was a four-year research project. We developed a set of programs, we delivered them to 200 individual students, and we’re currently evaluating the results.

Our programs included two financial aid programs, one a bursary program that would provide aboriginal undergraduate students with up to $5,000 a year for their education, and the other an emergency relief funding program, because we discovered that students often have to endure a temporary financial crisis to complete their education.

We had a preparation seminar that included a general history on aboriginal peoples, specific information about the first nations of these territories, and prepared students to do research apprenticeships and community internships.

Research apprenticeships were matching a student in our program with a faculty member, and they would work together on a research project of mutual interest to them. They received a course credit and a small stipend. Community internships matched a student with someone in a community or an aboriginal organization, again, to work on a project of mutual interest and benefit.

We had a peer mentoring program that matched more senior aboriginal students with incoming students to help them navigate the university. And we had a staff and faculty cultural training component that helped our faculty and staff in their interactions with aboriginal students.

Now, in terms of the funding that we distributed directly to the students, we gave out nearly $900,000, through the bursary and emergency aid program, we gave out $230,000, roughly, for each of the mentoring, the research apprenticeships, and the internship program. So that works out to about $4,100 per student that were in our programs.

Now the question is: how do we measure the success of that investment? Was it worth it?

There are two ways that you can do that. The first way, the more standard way, is to just look at graduation and retention rates: did the students who were in our programs have higher retention and graduation rates than the ones who did? But you can also measure success as it’s defined by students and communities, so: did the programs contribute to the student’s sense of identity, as an aboriginal person? Did it make them feel a part of the aboriginal community on campus?

We had three comparison groups: 1,000 students who attended the university in the five years before our programs began, the comparison group; then our 200 aboriginal student participants who elected to take part in our projects; and 819 non-participants, that is other aboriginal students on campus that elected not to participate.

The Chair: Professor Lalonde, we’ll have to try and wrap it up there. We’re a little over time right now.

So if you could just bring that to a close, and then we’ll go to questions.

Dr. Chris Lalonde: Sure.

Here’s what we found.

For our participants, the continuation rate was 55%, for non-participants, it was 24%, so you get twice the continuation; the withdrawal rate for our participants was 13%, compared to 48% for students who didn’t participate, so two-thirds less withdrawal; 32% of our students graduated during the study compared to 26% of the non-participants; 92% of them said the program contributed to their success; 80% said it made them feel part of the aboriginal community; 70% said it increased their sense of aboriginal identity; 82% said it increased their understanding of aboriginal issues. So, from our point of view, an investment of $4,100 per student pays off quite well.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, both.

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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: Now we’re going to go to Mr. Dreeshen for five minutes. That will be followed by Ms. Fry.

Go ahead, Mr. Dreeshen.

Mr. Earl Dreeshen (Red Deer, CPC): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I’d like to thank the witnesses for coming here today.

I’m a former educator. As a matter of fact, ironically, I have taught for 34 years, the length of time that your institution has been around.

Whether it’s labour disputes, or week-long blizzards during diploma exams, and so on, I know that there’s a lot of stresses that students have. I’d like to refocus on the types of things that are happening for the students, because that’s really where I’m coming from, and I think as all of the educators and business managers that are here, that should be what we’re talking about.

So my question is to Ms. Adams. I’m just wondering what types of support from staff and from your peers you are getting in order to relieve some of the pressures that students will be having under this stressful situation.

Mrs. Diane J. Adams: I think that were it not for the fact that we were students of the First Nations University, we would all have had nervous breakdowns by now. Fortunately, First Nations University has been incredibly successful in creating what I like to call really a home, a safe place. In fact right now I would just like to let you know that the students of the university have moved in to the university because they feel it is their home and the faculty and the staff have committed to not only being people who facilitate education but being mentors and supporters. There’s also the fact that we have three staff elders.

So it is the cultural components that are allowing students right now to continue and the fact that I and our student association have been fighting on behalf of most of our students so that they can go back to school. However, the traumatic effects of the pulling of the funding are far and wide and I would just like to give you an example. Our president of our student association in Saskatoon is expecting and the stress of the situation, because of the government’s action to pull the funding, has put her at risk of miscarriage of her pregnancy. That is the true effect of these actions. So it’s really a situation where thank goodness we’re at the First Nations University because if we were not we would be in big trouble.

Mr. Earl Dreeshen: Thank you for your comments. I guess I was trying to see whether or not there is some sort of cohesion there or whether the problems that you’ve indicated, whether they’re being exacerbated by commentary, some of what we’re hearing today, and it’s kind of unfortunate that that is taking place.

On our tour of the territories last fall as a committee, we met with several college leaders and we found a great collaboration between the facilities and their affiliates such as the University of Regina. I was just wondering, Ms. Timmons, if you could explain how that affiliation works and how your distance learning program works. I know that a lot of discussion had taken place about language training in my former school division. This is something that we did online. It’s something that is being expanded upon. This is the way in which we are planning on reaching out to all other areas and I’m just wondering whether that becomes part of the model that you have and quite frankly, if the university was trying to expand to all people, whether or not they would be thinking of those models rather than the concept of institutionalizing, bringing people into one particular facility area.

So my first question is for Ms. Timmons, and then perhaps Mr. Lundy.

Ms. Viane Timmons: The University of Regina has extensive outreach programs, right into Nunavik where we do a Bachelor of Education program without a college, we do programs in Whitehorse, we do programs all over Saskatchewan, as does First Nations University, presently.

We have not duplicated the knowledge base at our federated college First Nations University, so we do not have the capacity in our own institution, this knowledge, to do the kind of work that First Nations does. It would seem to be ridiculous to us people where we have expertise in a federated college which our students access all the time. So as I mentioned before, a thousand of our students access courses through First Nations University. We approve all the hiring of the faculty. We approve all the courses they offer. So we’re intimately integrated but we have no intention of duplicating the vast knowledge there, and they do outreach all over Saskatchewan and into the Northwest Territories as do we. We don’t duplicate. We complement.

Mr. Earl Dreeshen: Mr. Lundy.

Mr. Randy Lundy: Unfortunately, we’ve been under-resourced in terms of developing the level of TEL, which is what we call it. Technology enhanced learning. You know, we simply haven’t had the funding in place to do as much as we would like to do in that area. So federal funding in the realm of $10 million to $12 million would be very nice because it would allow us to do that.

Mr. Earl Dreeshen: Just a question, if I could. Is this because of a lack of administrative oversight that you’ve had in the last number of years? You said that you folks had talked to the administration and said that there are problems and difficulties that occur, so I know that as you’re speaking now you’re saying, “what can we do in the future?”, but I’m curious to know whether some of those things have been discussed prior to–

The Chair: You are out of time there, so just a short response.

Mr. Randy Lundy: Yes, we haven’t had the financial capacity, to keep it short. Then, obviously we won’t have if we don’t get our funding restored, and soon.

So that has been the holdup. In terms of moving forward, absolutely, it’s an area that we do need to expand into and do more than what we have done in the past, and there is only certain programming which actually is deliverable through those models because there is some face to face that has to happen in certain programs.

The Chair: I’m sorry, Mr. Lundy, we’re out of time. I thank you very much, Mr. Dreeshen.

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