Funding cuts to First Nations University

Decision part of larger trend of cutting Aboriginal-focused education, Queen’s professor says

The First Nations University (FNU)’s precarious financial situation has some worried about the future of Aboriginal-focused post-secondary education in Canada.

On Feb. 3, the province of Saskatchewan, where FNU is located, announced it would cut funding for the University after April 1, alleging financial mismanagement, including too many chiefs on the board of governors and running a deficit. Five days later, the federal government followed suit.

The university receives $5.2 million in provincial funding and $7.3 million in federal funding. Together, the $12.5 million makes up about half of the University’s annual budget, CBC News reported on Feb. 16.

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan chiefs met and agreed to a shared management plan with the University of Regina. This means the University of Regina will maintain financial control of FNU.

FNU, which has about 800 students, began as an affiliate college of the University of Regina in 1976. It’s the only Aboriginal-focused university in Canada.

The NDP is asking for reinstatement of federal funding following the Saskatchewan chiefs’ decision.

CBC News reported yesterday that the government has decided to cut all funding as of March 31.

Queen’s Aboriginal Council Co-Chair Mark Green said he thinks this decision is part of a larger trend of taking funding away from First Nations post-secondary education.

Green said Aboriginal-focused education is important to maintain.

“Often these programs are offered with a different perspective,” he said, adding that at FNU, program structures and topics of research are geared specifically to Aboriginal students.

Saskatchewan resident and indigenous lawyer Ken Young said he hopes future decisions about FNU will be made with education, not politics, in mind.

“I think the problem is that certain members find it a problem that there are often too many chiefs on the board and that it should be people with other political leadership,” he said. “I think the best way to solve such a problem would be to have this issue be less politically involved and focused more on the education itself.”

Kingston’s Katarokwi Native Friendship Centre staff member Sharon Beaudian said she thinks allegations of financial mismanagement arose because First Nations University ran out of money from insufficient funding in the first place.

“The federal government never gives enough money to First Nations and what eventually ends up happening is that the money that is given to them is used to provide funds for the projects that are needed at the time,” she said. “First Nations University is a basis of our culture, not only for the people in Saskatchewan, but for the people [in Kingston] as well. It allows for the regional implementation of our beliefs.”

Beaudian said she thinks FNU is important because it teaches cultural values from a perspective that some indigenous groups hold.

“These values are good morals, good teachings, not only for First Nations but for everyone,” she said. “It’s a very good road to follow. It relies on a balance of where we sit on this earth. When you have balance you’re able to accommodate many things in life.” Beaudin said she thinks FNU also provides an important learning experience about Aboriginal communities as a whole.

“There are a lot of factors in such an education, like understanding your people and behaviour of your people,” she said. “That may be lost if it goes into a mainstream organization.”

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