By UNGELBAH DAVILA
Santa Fe”” On Wednesday, March 21, at 2:30 p.m., to be exact, some students in the political know may have been surprised to see Vice Chief Delbert Wapass, the Education and Training Secretariat for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, touring the IAIA campus.
If you happened to be a First Nations student, this may have come as an even bigger surprise, considering the struggle the First Nations University of Canada has been having since the Saskatchewan government announced in February that it would no longer fund FNUniv as of April 1.
Allegations of mismanagement by the University’s Board of Governors, which is appointed by the Chiefs of Saskatchewan, have been the government’s primary reason for cutting the school’s $5.2 million in funding.
“Our government has lost confidence in the governance and management of First Nations University,” Rob Norris, the provincial minister of advanced education, employment and labor, said in a statement.
Not Just an Institution
FNUniv began in 1976 as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. It was established through a federated partnership with the University of Regina through the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College Act of the Legislative Assembly of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
With three campuses in Prince Albert, Regina, and Saskatoon, it is the only First Nations-controlled, post-secondary institution operating in close partnership with a major university.
According to the school’s website, the school offers an environment of indigenous culture and history, combining indigenous and standard perspectives in their programs.
According to an April 13 article published on Rabble.ca, the school “has spent the last five years lurching from crisis to crisis, and in the process giving the federal Conservative government an excuse to cut a program they weren’t committed to in the first place.”
A Road Out of Poverty
“The lack of remorse this federal government has demonstrated toward the First Nations University of Canada clearly identifies their unwillingness to accept that aboriginal people are integral to the growth of this Nation,” said Steven Swan, a third-year education student at FNUniv.
FNUniv student Shane Keepness, from Muscowpetung First Nations, called the school “a road out of poverty and a highway for success to local First Nations communities.”
“FNU has the ability to teach programs unique to most of the world and absolutely to Canada,” said Swan.
“The knowledge you gain at this institute is second to none with a huge emphasis on indigenous knowledge.”
Students Demand to be Heard
After the announcement was made that the school would be losing just over a fifth of its annual budget, it was the student body that responded the quickest.
According to a Feb. 3 article published by The Vancouver Sun, students from all three campuses visited the FSIN assembly at the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, just south of Saskatoon, to discuss having the board of governors dissolved, saying that it had failed them.
Though FSIN Chief Guy Lonechild had told the press that, “students were the first priority in any discussions on FNUniv,” the FSIN declined to make a stand in favor of the university.
Feeling that they were still not being heard, the students decided to organize again, declaring a campus “live-in” on March 22.
“In order to protect the home of treaty education in Canada, we are taking ownership and moving into our home,” said Desarae Eashappie in a March 22 article by the Leader Post.
Students Question Their Leaders
In March, Eashappie told the Leader Post that more First Nations leaders need to stand up and voice their concerns.
“We really need them to be here and standing beside us and with us,” she said. “We would really appreciate it if they could step up and take some more initiative and fight for our university.”
Over a month has passed and student feelings towards the FSIN have not gotten any more positive.
Apparently, Vice Chief Wapass did not go unnoticed by the IAIA student body.
Not long after his visit, a small but mighty stir rippled between countries via Facebook. Allegations were made that while students at FNUniv continue their protests, walks, rallies, and the on going live-in, to reestablish funding for their beloved school, the FSIN was on vacation at the Gathering of Nations pow-wow in Albuquerque.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” an FNU student said on Facebook, “The chiefs and so called leaders have been the least vocal group to support us. Unless they are doing it silently, which does not help us at all.”
A Matter of Hope
But perhaps there is hope yet that things are changing for the better, despite discontent over alleged questionable vacations.
On April 17, the Leader Post reported that Chief Lonechild has, “convinced the FSIN chiefs to stand down on the issue of FNUniv governance and agree to dissolve the board and suspend two senior university administrators.”
The article also reported that Advanced Education, Employment and Labor Minister Rob Norris has gotten “back on the bandwagon, along with the province’s $5 million in funding, after receiving assurance that governance and administrative issues at FNUniv were being dealt with.”
Although absolute security that the school’s funding will be reissued is not yet a reality, and there is still more to be done, students are optimistic.
“There have been some very productive and progressive steps taken in the last week that leave us feeling very hopeful for a resolve in the coming days,” said FNUniv student, Mike Dubois, on April 21.
“We went from no power and no funding to having the student voice be taken seriously.”
Copyright © IAIA CHRONICLE 2010