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.