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From an editorial by Doug Cuthand in the Leader-Post of April 16, 2010.

Although Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl’s concerns have been addressed, the only federal response has been to offer $3 million in programming funds that must be applied for.

It amounts to nothing more than a public relations stunt, and a poor one at that. It allows the colonial office to wash its hands of the problem and blame the victim.

FNUC students and faculty are fighting hard. Live-ins, teach-ins and other methods of protest are underway daily. Now the FSIN leadership and the chiefs need to step up and prove that FNUC has support provincewide.

In spite of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s stand that it was a tough budget for tough times, and that his plan is to rein in spending, the spending on penitentiaries will increase 36 per cent between now and 2012-13.

Ron Clark, Tory MP for Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, is the most vulnerable. Lots of students from his constituency attend FNUC, particularly at the Prince Albert campus. The people in the North are proud of their campus, and the leaders are proud of the students. The government’s blunder won’t be forgotten in the next election.

Read the full editorial in the Leader-Post.

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REGINA, March 31 /CNW Telbec/ – Students at the First Nations University of Canada have been hung out to dry by Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, who announced yesterday that the federal government will only provide funding for students at the University until the end of the academic year.

“Minister Strahl has exposed the federal government’s contempt for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples,” said Thomas Roussin, representative of the National Aboriginal Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students. “Students at First Nations University need a future, not a five month contract.”

Following years of difficulties the institution recently restructured and reached an agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the University of Regina on principles for a new funding mechanism that will address issues of governance and make the institution more accountable. Shortly after reaching the agreement the government of Saskatchewan committed to restore funding; however without the federal government’s $7.2 million annual contribution, the University cannot afford to keep its doors open.

“The federal government is ignoring its treaty obligation to fund Aboriginal education,” added Roussin. “While the government of Saskatchewan has recognized the vital need for a First Nations institution, Ottawa is turning its back on the only such University in Canada.”

First Nations University of Canada has been a symbol of leadership in Aboriginal post-secondary education to people around the world. The University serves as a model for Aboriginal controlled education. The Canadian Federation of Students and National Aboriginal Caucus have called on the government to honour their apology to the Residential School Survivors and increase funding to Aboriginal education and healing.

Founded in 1981, the Canadian Federation of Students is Canada’s largest student organisation, uniting more that one-half million students from ten provinces. The National Aboriginal Caucus is the voice of Aboriginal students in Canada with members on campuses from St. John’s to Victoria.

For further information: Thomas Roussin, National Aboriginal Caucus representative, (306) 596-6716

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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’ll now go to the second round of questioning, and it’s even more difficult because it’s only five minutes now for both the question and the response. We’re going to begin with Mr. Bagnell from the Liberal Party of Canada. Five minutes, Mr. Bagnell.

Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair. You’re doing an excellent job, as usual.

I’d just like to start by saying nothing is unclear or in motion because we can put conditions in our funding that anything needs to be in place at the time we fund it.

I’d like you to get back to us in writing. I don’t want you to answer this question now, but just the technical details of what you would get through ISSP, the maximum, why it’s not enough, etc. Also, if you could, give us on paper the written comment on the best practice that the minister from Saskatchewan said to you.

What I want to do, I don’t really need to say anything because you’ve already said it all, but there have only been three reasons why you wouldn’t get the funding restored. The most ridiculous one is that we’re going to continue giving funding to the students. Well, students, as you all said, all get funding anyway, so that’s a red herring. They always will get funding under the ISSP and INAC funding, so that’s not an answer.

That would go on if they could go elsewhere, and as you’ve quite eloquently said, you can’t go elsewhere if there’s no elsewhere to go to continue your programming. You’ve given a lot of unique examples. It’s like saying we’ll give you money for gas for a car, but you can’t have a car, or we’ll let you learn Cree or French in this particular university when it’s not even offered. So it doesn’t help that you can elsewhere when there’s nowhere else to go.

You can’t get the indigenous culture transfer, the indigenous environment programs, the dental therapist, which is really going to hurt the health minister because the only way she can get dental therapists in Nunavut is through your university. It’s not like there’s an option.

The last question, of course, which you’ve also answered, are the problems in the past, which everyone here acknowledges. You’ve dealt with that. I mean, any suggestion that there’s a problem now that the agreement’s signed would be an insult to the University of Regina, a great institution.

I don’t know if anyone wants to comment on any of those. It doesn’t seem like anyone in this room can give a reason now, because any of the reasons that might have been, have been answered.

I don’t want you to use the last of the time because I have one more question.

In fact, maybe I’ll ask my last question and then anyone can answer on any of these things. What is the worst thing someone from the Government of Canada said to you, either the minister, the minister’s office, or employees of the Government of Canada, in your discussions related to the university?

The Chair: Okay, it’s somewhat open. Who wants to go first?

Miss Timmons, go ahead.

Ms. Viane Timmons: I don’t care would be the worst thing I heard. I don’t care to me is not the kind of answer I would expect from my federal representatives, when I’m talking about students’ lives, faculty members’ lives and staff members’ lives. So I would say. I would also acknowledge that I as the President of the University of Regina just stated … we have a signed MOU as of a half an hour ago. If you question that, Mr. Duncan, I would be extremely insulted. I just said that it’s signed and done.

Thank you.

The Chair: Mr. Boire.

Mr. Gary Boire (Vice-President Academic, University of Regina): Thank you very much. I’d like to acknowledge Chief Lonechild.

The worst thing I’ve heard is that we don’t believe in deathbed conversions. This is a comment that I think is an inaccurate perception of the actions taken by the chief and FSIN and the assembly of chiefs. I think it’s an insensitive response to the restructuring changes that the working group has been working on for the past four weeks. I don’t think it’s an especially helpful perception of the long-term vision of post-secondary education for aboriginal students.

It’s been mentioned that the Department of Indian Language and Literatures program is unique in Canada. It’s unique in more ways than one. It’s not simply that books by aboriginal authors are taught. What is significant is that this unit is dedicated to the preservation of languages such as Cree, Saulteau, Nakoda, Dakota, Lakhota as well as Dene. We all know that the death of a language is the death of a culture and we all know that being prevented from speaking your own language is a crime that we never hope to repeat in this country again.

Thank you.

The Chair: Okay, now there’s only 40 seconds left.

Does anyone else want to just quickly jump in on that?

Madam Myo, go ahead.

Ms. Dorothy Myo: I think what I want to say is that it’s not so much what people are saying, it’s the fact that there isn’t anything being done looking at it. It’s really a case of not so much what is said but that there’s no action from our perceptions.

The Chair: Thank you very much and thank you, Mr. Bagnell.

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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 Ms. Crowder for seven minutes. That will be followed by Mr. Duncan for the same time.

Go ahead, Ms. Crowder.

Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP): Thank you.

I want to thank you all for coming here today. I also think it’s important that you’ve acknowledged that there have been challenges with the university in the past. We all know that.

I also think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that we have a diverse group working together to find solutions for the institution and for the students. I think it’s always important to keep in mind that what we’re talking about here is the health and well-being of the institution and the students.

A number of you have outlined the benefits of the institution and I just want to touch on a couple of things. One is that we’ve had numerous letters. I know people are listening and I want to thank people for writing in and talking about their personal experience of the institution. We certainly had one here that outlined in detail the benefits of the language aspects of the university that simply are not available anywhere else in Canada.

In the 2005 report as well, and some of this has been covered, but at that time it was one of only four environmental health sciences programs in North America, the only dental therapy program, which I think you touched on, that the nursing program at the Prince Albert campus is the largest indigenous professional program in the world. I think that in terms of celebrating the successes of the university, that gets left out of this conversation on a regular basis.

My two questions to you are: one, in the minister’s appearance before the committee last week, he indicated that he’s been through this so many times, “What I’ve said to them is what’s the proposal”. So the minister a week ago was indicating that he had no knowledge of the proposal that was being put forward to rescue the First Nations University. He also indicated in response to a question that the model was changing that it’s still not there. This was a week ago. He’s indicating that he doesn’t know about a plan and that the model’s not there. That’s one question.

The second question I have for you is that again the minister has consistently stated that the money could still be there, the $7.2 million, but what it will do is follow students individually or be available through proposal applications through ISSP , I would presume outside of the First Nations University.

I’d like you to tell me why those proposals will not work. You’ve addressed it briefly, but I’d like you to elaborate. Two questions: How can the minister say that there was no plan or proposal given what we’ve heard today; and why won’t the proposals that the minister has put forward not work?

Chief Guy Lonechild: I’ll ask for some assistance from Ms. Myo, as well, but for ISSP funding, the funding primarily does not cover core funding operations equipment.

Given Minister Rob Norris, last year, or a year-and-a-half ago, at the Canadian Council for Ministers on Education, used First Nations University as a best practice, we asked the very same question: what has changed? Everything and nothing has changed.

Ms. Jean Crowder: Sorry, Chief, could you repeat that?

So a year ago the provincial government was citing you with best practices?

Chief Guy Lonechild: Absolutely.

At the CCME meeting in Saskatoon, that First Nations University was a major catalyst for people entering post-secondary education, and having that as a model for the institution, itself, to be that welcoming environment for people who enter post-secondary.

Our insistence is that we need sustainable multi-year funding. ISSP just will not cut it, in terms of the program support funding that would be required to run an institution, as such, and we would look to ensuring that we have a model that’s going to be agreed to by our working group.

Our working group member can clarify that a little further on the transitional model.

The Chair: I think Mr. Turk wanted to answer there, as well.

Mr. James L. Turk: Let them finish, if you want, Chairman.

The Chair: All right.

Ms. Dorothy Myo: Thank you.

Just to finish on the ISSP funding, again, to say, also, that this is targeted for programming and it doesn’t address the operational funding of institutions. There are other limitations to that, as well, including the maximum amount that can be accessed through the program funding.

The other part of this, in terms of our transitional model, and actually having a plan, the working group has been at this for four weeks. As a working group, we have said that we would not go to the media until we were finished our work. It’s just been today that we were able to sign off on our Memorandum of Understanding.

This has been, really, a work in progress, so that’s the reason for that.

The Chair: Okay.

We’ve got about a minute and 45 seconds left, and Mr. Lundy and Mr. Turk wanted to get in a short comment.

Go ahead either of you.

Mr. James L. Turk: I’ll be very quick.

There is no university in this country that operates on proposal-based funding. Every university in Canada operates on core funding. A university cannot survive when it has to exist year by year on proposal-based funding because of the long-term commitments it has to make in terms of programs, in terms of faculty.

Secondly, allowing the funding to simply ago to the students without a first nations’ option for them means that, those who need and want that option—and there are many—will not have it.

The Chair: Mr. Lundy.

Mr. Randy Lundy: The first question from Jean Crowder was about the minister’s comments about not being aware that this proposed agreement was in the works.

I think it’s important to remember that the working group has been working for, what, about four weeks now, and Indian Affairs has had observer status, two members observing, since the inception of this working group. I’m not sure how Minister Strahl could be unaware of the fact that this agreement was in the works. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but somebody will have to ask him.

Also, I read the unofficial transcripts of your last meeting, Thursday, March 18. One of the other things I noticed in Minister Strahl’s comments was that at least on two occasions he stated the province wasn’t onboard either, that he was just doing what the province was doing, and that, if we asked the province, they would say the same thing, that they were not willing to fund this model either.

I’m not sure what model Minister Strahl was referring to, because, obviously, the news we’ve just gotten is that the province is onboard. The province is willing to fund this new model. It is signed, sealed and delivered.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Lundy, that will wrap it up.

Thank you, Ms. Crowder.

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I am a non-Aboriginal graduate of the University of Regina and took many classes at the FNUniv. The classes at this institute were some of the most important courses I took during my education. These classes taught me of the history of colonization within Canada, discussed the current state of the health of Aboriginal people as it relates to a history of oppression and allowed me to connect with First Nations culture through ceremony and teachings from Elders. As a result of my connection and interest with what I was learning I was able to find a student employment opportunity at the FNUniv. This job allowed me a unique opportunity to learn and take part in First Nations culture, an opportunity I would not have had without this institution. I cannot overstate the impact this institution has had on my life.

My time at the FNUniv. has allowed me, as a non-Aboriginal person to start bridging the cultural gap that I see exists between First Nations and European-Canadians. My experience has moved beyond my life and has ultimately impacted my family and community and will continue with me through my working years, indirectly affecting many others. We need a place where people of all backgrounds can come and learn about Canada’s First Peoples from First Nations people. With the current disparities facing Aboriginal people, I know that we cannot move ahead without this important institution.

Sincerely,
Michelle Biden
Regina, Saskatchewan

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Dear All, I am writing to support the continuance of the First Nations University in Saskatchewan. It is integral to the healing and support of First Peoples in Canada that this university remains open. Please try to find a way to keep this university open, if this means replacing peoples within it for accounting measures, then please do this – its a simple matter really to make these amends as exampled continuously in federal and provincial accounting issues that incur problems regarding budgets. Revamping the financial structure of the university will solve these problems.

In the history of colonizing Native Peoples and losses of Native cultures as well as traumas incurred by generations from Indian Residential School, and in terms of the reclamation of Native cultures today, healing, and language revival, the First Nations university is providing a service that offers cultural healing and synthesis for Native Peoples within a modern world that supports Canada and the initial multicultural vision of this nation-state.

As Canadians that hold political offices or positions of power and who are proud to be Canadian, would you let the First Nations University ideology fail? Or will you embrace it and make it succeed, to show the true efforts of Canadians as human beings in the “true north, strong and free” that we promoted at the Olympics in Vancouver?

Kind regards, Dr. Paula du Hamel Yellow Horn.

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To whom it may Concern:

I am deeply saddened by the withdrawal of financial support from the Federal government for the First Nations University of Canada. Parliament meets today to decide the fate of this unique university and with great faith I pray it will stay open.

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis (FNMI) students face hardships at every corner when trying to get an education. For many FNMI peoples, it is hard to even face life. It is evident with the high suicide rates, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in foster care, the underrepresentation of Aboriginal people working in the justice system, the low number of Aboriginal students graduating from high school, and the list goes on.

The First Nations University of Canada is a voice and avenue that enables FNMI people to obtain quality education so that one day FNMI people will maintain the same quality of life that other Canadians freely enjoy. The FNMI people of Canada are a vital and important component of Canada’s future. We have a chance to change the future by keeping the First Nations University of Canada open. We can make the quality of living better for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit People.

Sincerely,

Sea Marsland
First Year Representative
Native American Student Association
University of Lethbridge Alberta

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