FNUC

No, that’s not a typo.

If you live in Saskatchewan (or probably, mostly anywhere in Western Canada), you’ll have heard about First Nations University of Canada (I feel I have to apologise for their HORRIBLE website – Coyote, can you please do something about that?). You’ll have heard about it, if not because it’s an important institution, not just for First Nations students, but for all students who want to take their post-secondary education in a culturally…significant? atmosphere. You might have heard people bitching about FNUC, saying open-minded and accepting things like “why should they have a separate University?” and “why don’t we have a Universityfor white guys?”.

So, to those douchebags, let me just say: “they” don’t, and you do.

I don’t want to get too much in to how important FNUC is and why it’s a Good Thing and all that jazz. I won’t get in to much about how there are federated colleges for Anglicans, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Ukrainians, Francophones, African-Americans, etc., etc., etc.. Canada has a few Federated Colleges, mostly religious-based: the University of Saskatchewan, they are Federated with St. Thomas More (Roman Catholic); the University of Regina has three – Campion College (Jesuit), Luther College (Lutheran), and First Nations University of Canada. “Federated College” really just means that an educational institute that in some way shares resources with a larger body (but which is generally academically independent). But I don’t want to get into that. There’s something else I want to talk about.

Recently, FNUC has been in the news because it lost both its provincial funding and its federal fiscal support. FNUC has had financial, governance, and academic issues in the past. A friend of mine who is a professor of Cree, Indigenous Knowledge, Narrative  Knowing, Indigenous Art of Canada, Treaties, and many other things – this friend of mine used to teach at FNUC. Five years ago, he told me that he was “getting the hell out” of that institution because there were so many problems. He now teaches at a Canadian University ‘out east’. I suspect he misses his family terribly. And, making his move even more sad is that my friend Coyote doesn’t get to take any of his classes (and, of course, neither do any of Coyote’s classmates). But I’m side-railing myself here.

The reasons FNUC lost its funding and support are multifarious, and there are lobbyists and conspiracy theorists who spin it many ways. I don’t believe, for instance, the people who say the provincial government pulled its funding because they don’t want Natives educated; that they want to keep the Indians poor and subjugated and in their place. I don’t believe that the provincial government and the federal government collaborated with each other to pull funding because they wanted to use that money to pad their own coffers. I don’t believe that *helicopters* have been *deployed*, in other words (name that quote, folks!).

Here’s what I believe. Note that I don’t have all the information, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But this is my crackpot theory.

FNUC has been having governance issues for quite some time. three years ago, I think, the college was in danger of losing its academic status in the academic community as a degree-granding institution. There were problems in the way the college had fired a number of staff members. In fact, the college was put on academic probation until it agreed to sever its relationship with one of its founding organisations, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. Eventually, the college was taken off of probation, but then some nastiness came about when the association of college and university teachers encouraged their members not to take positions with FNUC, and/or to leave FNUC if they were currently employed there. I believe that all went back to the problems with the way the college had fired its staff, a perceived (on the part of the association of teachers) infringement on academic freedom and the ubiquitious ‘separation of church and state’. Or  rather, the academics didn’t think FNUC was far enough away from political interference to be an independent institution.

During the last five years, there have been allegations of staff embezzling funds, of the mismanagement of scholarship monies, and all kinds of bee ess that *seriously* endangers the future of the college.

The provincial and federal governments instituted a number of carrots-on-sticks, encouraging FNUC to fix governance and administrative difficulties before releasing emergency funding to cover the college’s salaraies and administrative/operating expenses. These funds were released in a stepped fashion: the governments said, “prove to use you’re doing this, and we’ll release your funding”, and then, “prove to use you’ve done this BETTER, and we’ll release this funding”.  Because seriously, if you’re in the business of spending taxpayers’ money, you really don’t want to be in the position of giving away money to an institution that can’t show you how your funding has been allocated. No paper trails make governments twitchy.

From 2007 to 2009, FNUC experienced problem after problem, due, IMO, in part to bad governance, bad decisions, and not listening to good advice. The people running the show had *no idea* how to run an academic institution, and they refused to accept help (or to ask for help) in learning. They fired people who disagreed with them. They refused to submit the required information when governments asked for it, and then got indignant when the governments refused to submit funding. This is really the Wrong Way to go about getting public funding for your institution.

So In My Opinion, the pride of a handful of individuals *seriously* endangered an important institution. And continues to do so.

Earlier this year, the provincial government withdrew provincial funding from FNUC. Within twenty-four hours, FNUC had essentially fired its board of directors. Except this one guy, who had been a director, who claimed he hadn’t actually BEEN fired. But he had. Eventually, he had to leave. It was short-sighted to assume that simply by firing the board and arranging for new governance, provincial funding would be reinstated. It’s not that easy.

It’s *incredibly* difficult to get government funding for *anything*, and it’s your responsibility as someone working for an organisation that receives government funding to ensure that you fulfil every requirement your granting agency requires of you. When you receive government funding, you are accepting payment from your neighbours, your parents, your children, your brothers and sisters, and everyone who pays tax. You *owe them*, at the very least, your very best. People at FNUC were not doing their very best. They’d been warned; they ignored the warnings, and they are suffering the consequences.

Federal funding was rescinded shortly after provincial funding was pulled. FNUC was in a tailspin.

Now, the provincial government is willing to consider funding the college, providing its affiliated/parent organisation, the University of Regina, provides a written proposal/agreement to the province. This has not been done, which has hamstrung our own government officials trying to reinstate federal funding. This is an extremely simple glossing-over of some of the facts.

I support, 100%, the First Nations University of Canada. But I don’t support they way they’ve gone about attempting to do things. I don’t support the douchebaggery coming out of some of the people who hopefully are no longer involved with the institution. I don’t support people claiming they DESERVE government funding, particularly when all they have done, these few people, is demonstrate time and time again fiscal (and, really, ethical) mismanagement and extremely bad decision making. I don’t support the immediate reinstatement of funding…not until FNUC can prove it can manage public funding responsibly. It has not yet had the opportunity to do that.

Trust is a very easy thing to lose, and is an *extremely* difficult thing to earn back, once it has been lost. People, funders, students, professors, and employees have been losing faith in FNUC for nearly five years, and FNUC has been disappointing them at every step of the way.

This is a time for FNUC to rebuild. I have confidence they will do it, and they will do it well. I believe FNUC will be an excellent school, able to competed, academically, with any school in Canada. This is a time for FNUC to learn from its mistakes….but to learn from your mistakes, you must first *acknowledge* them.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

6 Comments

  1. SWC and I have discussed things along this lines before.

    Me, I fully support the education of a people who are, for the most part, growing up poor and in pretty crappy conditions. Education helps break the cycle.

    I *do* have a problem with the way a lot of the leadership treats their own people as serfs and peasants and move to retain their fiefdoms at all costs and only to enrich themselves and their political cronies. Yes, SWC, it happens at all levels. I know that, too.

    But when a leader of a group is lining their pockets with money that could be helping *the people they claim to represent and are “trying to help”*, especially on such a personal level, I have a big problem. Bad enough that whitey has screwed over the aboriginal population for so long – now they feel the need to do it to themselves?

    Here’s hoping that FNUC can get good leaders – of any race – in there to sort things out.

    1. Dude, yeah, the douchebags who say that “they” don’t deserve an education “at the cost of the taxpayer” (or at all) should probably go to school themselves.

  2. A couple things I’d add to this because the media in all cases has been ignoring them:

    1) FNUC is the most active partner at the U of R. If you add up all the credit hours that Campion and Luther do for students registered solely through the U of R, and compare it to the credit hours FNUC does, FNUC nearly DOUBLES those of the other two collegs combined.

    2) The questions made about the university’s quality of education is ridiculous. The professors at the FNUC are incredibly talented and have impecable credentials. The expectations for any of the classes I’ve taken through FNUC are miles above those at the U of R. Our professors there include individuals who have an incredible combination of practical and theoretical knowledge and include people like Rob Nestor, who is actively a part of the legal process in land claim and First Nations issues (And is white), Michelle Segu, who holds a doctorate in Law, focuses her teachings on the legal foundations of First Nations Rights in Canada, and pushes her classes to understandings that are beyond any other I’ve been required to know for any other class, and Bill Asikinack, a man who holds several degrees, is working on his second PhD and was raised in a traditional way on Wapole Island, and has been involved in all levels of interaction between First Nations all over this country and various governments. This doesn’t even go into our English and linguistics departments who have attracted professors from all over the world due to the unique and important work those departments are doing.

    3) The CAUT, the same group that censured the FNUC for failing to follow certain academic principles, was the first group to publically, and loudly, condemn both provincial and federal levels of governments for pulling our funding. Their censure had nothing to do with WHAT our teachers were doing, instead what the administration was doing to those teachers.

    4) I do believe that, at least on the federal part, this is a concerted attack on First Nations treaty rights. Strahl and company are firm believers in Tom Flanagan’s school of conservative thought, which includes active policies to destroy treaties and remove First Nations people from their apparently ‘privileged’ position.

    5) We are talking about a grand total of about 14 million dollars. A year. That is not even one percent of the royalties that the Saskatchewan government alone makes off of natural resources, resources it only has because of treaties.

    6) Treaty rights include a promise of education for First Nations people on First Nations land. That promise of education has no limitation on it to grade school or high school. It is merely listed as education. Which includes post-secondary levels. FNUC exists on reserve land.

    7) Similar stories in the news portray the individuals who rip off educational, social, or other non-profit groups as individuals. eg. When the vets club in Regina was forced to shut down because their accountant and business manager walked off with their money, it was touted as a terrible crime against the war vets. When leadership of the FNUC rips off the students and faculty, it isn’t ‘Leadership robs youth of future’ it is portrayed as ‘Indians can’t manage money.’

    There are a lot more points I could include on this and there is a lot I want to write but I will be quite honest, at times I get filled with an incredible rage about these issues, not just because of what has happened, but what will happen. Not just because the government’s actions, but those of the people who are supposed to be my leaders in the FSIN. Not just because the sum total of what is happening is destroying a valuable and needed institution, but because some people are glad to see it go.

    As an aside to this. After the initial protest, lead by students, went to the FSIN legislative assembly, a bunch of band elections were held within the last few months following that gathering. Amazingly enough, students from those reserves organized the people of those reserves to oust the leaders who were abusing their position. The former chairman of the FNUC board, someone recognized for his involvement in all these issues, was booted from office as Chief. This one event has sparked a need for First Nations people to stand up and be more actively involved in their futures. Something that for a lot of these people, people who have been beaten by everything, is very difficult to do.

    1. 6) Treaty rights include a promise of education for First Nations people on First Nations land. That promise of education has no limitation on it to grade school or high school. It is merely listed as education. Which includes post-secondary levels. FNUC exists on reserve land.

      This is the only thing I take umbrage with, really. I don’t agree with many of your points, but this is the only one I’m going to comment on.

      Because what pisses me off is that for YEARS, the provincial and federal government were saying “we want to honour the treaty agreements, but we don’t want to keep handing over money if your board can’t show it’s being used to help the people we’re trying to help”. I don’t believe that there is some grand conspiracy to a) “Keep Indians stupid”, or b) do away with treaties. I really don’t. I DO think that Chuck Strahl et al didn’t trust the previous administration of FNUC to actually do what they said they would do, financially and otherwise. I DO think the feds and the provincial government got sick of not being taken seriously by the former FNUC administration, and I DO think that removing funding is their way of “punishing” FNUC for not smartening the hell up.

      Students and profs FOR YEARS have been calling for changes to FNUC administration.

      Look, the idea that First Nations peoples are specially privileged is, in my opinion, ridiculous. We are all covered under the same treaties…we are all, as they say, treaty people. I don’t give a fiddler’s fart if you (the ubiquitous ‘you’, not just you, Coyote) don’t think it’s right for “we the taxpayers” to be “paying for something our ancestors did short-sightedly two hundred years ago”. I don’t care if you think that way, because you’re wrong. That’s not what treaties are about. But if you think that way, chances are good I’m not going to be able to talk any sense into you about what treaties ARE for.

      But I’ll tell you what they’re NOT for. They’re not for a handful of individuals ripping off THE ENTIRE STUDENT AND ACADEMIC POPULATION OF A FEDERATED COLLEGE to pad their own wallets. They’re not for mismanagement of funds. They’re not for actions leading to academic censure.

      I have not heard ONE PERSON say that funding will *never* be restored to FNUC. I *have* heard the provincial government say, “you clean up your act in administration and governance, and we’ll reinstate funding”. I *have* heard the federal government talk about reinstating funding once certain things are done.

      In my never to be humble opinion, everything coming out of the media about the governments pulling funding because they want to get rid of their treaty obligations is bullshit. I could be proved wrong. If the governance and administration of FNUC cleans itself up and fulfills the fiscal management duties required, and the governments STILL don’t reinstate funding, then I’ll question their motives. But right now, I think bringing into question the governments’ commitments on treaty rights is premature.

      That’s what I was trying to get at with this post. That there were warnings for at least SEVEN YEARS that if the governance and administration didn’t clean up, the funding would be cut until it did. I am disgusted that people are surprised that it happened, and what worries me most is that the actions of a few people could, again, in my never to be humble opinion, jeopardize the future of FNUC, an institution which is, in my opinion, extremely important.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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