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Thought you might be interested in the following. This morning I presented the first of several such petitions in the House. More to follow before we rise for the summer break.

Todd.

Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to introduce a petition signed by people through Saskatchewan in support of the First Nations University of Canada .

The petitioners wish to draw to the attention of the House that the viability of the First Nations University of Canada was threatened by the removal of provincial and federal funding and that the reinstatement of provincial funds and up to $3 million in federal funds to the proposed student-based support program would not ensure long-term sustainable funding of the First Nations University, that steps have been taken to improve the governance and accountability of the First Nations University and a memorandum of understanding has been signed by all parties, that the founding mission of the university includes a commitment to enhance the quality of life and to preserve, protect and interpret the history, language, culture and artistic heritage of First Nations peoples.

The petitioners state that we must not lose the valuable resource and indigenous knowledge that has been created at the First Nations University and that above all we must the support the students at First Nations University who have demonstrated their dedication, commitment and overwhelming desire for the continuation of the institution.

The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to work with the students, staff and faculty to build a sustainable and viable future for the First Nations University of Canada by fully reinstating federal funding of at least $7.2 million.

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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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From an article posted on Canada.com on April 8, 2010.

A number of casual employees at the First Nations University of Canada were laid off Wednesday and the school could face the loss of one third of its full-time faculty by semester’s end, the chair of the school’s academic council said.

Randy Lundy said staff was informed earlier this week that steps were to be taken to address the university’s $300,000 monthly deficit, and Wednesday’s staff cuts were just the “tip of the iceberg.”

By the end of the semester, Lundy foresees the university laying off many of its sessional staff, non-unionized employees, non-academic staff, and finally, a third of its faculty.

“It would be a disaster for the institution if that ends up being the case and it’s the federal government imposing these conditions upon us,” he said.

Read the full article on Canada.com.

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FNUC lays off workers

From an article posted at CBC.ca on April 7, 2010.

Layoffs have begun at the financially troubled First Nations University of Canada.

University officials have not confirmed the number, but one person who was laid off and who did not want to be identified told CBC News a total of 25 casual and temporary workers were given pink slips.

Staff at the university learned through an email that Wednesday would be the last day for all non-essential and non-student casual employees.

More layoffs are expected soon as the Regina-based facility grapples with an estimated $300,000-a-month deficit.

Read more at CBC.ca.

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From an article by Kerry Benjoe published in the Montreal Gazette on April 2, 2010.

“There’s much work to be done in a very short period time,” said Pete. “But I think that the work both the board has done and the interim administration team has done has really paved the way for my role coming in at this point.”

Pete said she wants to remind everyone that the university has a long history in the province and plays an important role in the community.

She plans on focusing the next six months working with others to get federal funding restored to the university.

“I have to commend all the folks that have been involved to date,” said Pete. “They have worked under time crunches and, in some ways, impossible odds. They’ve done it with grace and dignity and they’ve carried forward with a very clear focus, and I hope to assume that very clear focus.”

Read more in the Montreal Gazette.

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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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