Saskatchewan has cut off funding to Canada’s only native university after weeks of scandal over alleged mismanagement and misspending. Provincial funding accounts for $5.2 million at the First Nations University of Canada, one fifth of the school’s operating budget.
FNUC asked Saskatchewan to be patient, as the university’s board of governors prepared a report on how to fix the problems plaguing the Regina-based school, to be completed by the end of January.
School officials then said the report would not be ready until mid-February. Rob Norris, advanced education minister, responded, “Quite simply, that’s not acceptable for us.” FNUC has missed several deadlines for reforms.
The day after the funding announcement, the controlling board of FNUC, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, dismissed the board of governors and put many senior staff on administrative leave. FSIN is expected to appoint a new board this week.
Some students say the issue goes beyond mismanagement, and many vented on Facebook. “The mistake has always been letting the issues at FNUniv stay an ‘Indian issue’—education is an issue that is important to all of us,” reads one post.
FNUC students and some chiefs from FSIN are demanding that Ottawa step in and fill the void left by the Saskatchewan government, but federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl announced this weekend that the federal government will not be adding funding.
Strahl noted that the $7 million in federal grants given to the school are now under review.
“When the province says they’ve lost confidence and will not support the university moving forward, it’s hard to misinterpret that. It’s pretty unequivocal language,” said Strahl in an interview with the CBC.
Strahl told the CBC that he has had numerous discussions with FSIN about the issues at FNUC over the last two years—there have been allegations of mismanagement and misspending since 2005—with little progress.
The latest incident came to light when FNUC’s chief financial officer, Murray Westerlund, left his post in December 2009. The departure follows a report in which Westerlund alleged hundreds of thousands of dollars were misspent. He has filed a wrongful dismissal suit.
Over $250,000 was doled out in unclaimed vacation pay in the last four years, with most of it going to senior staff. An additional $215,000 was spent on consultation fees for the construction of a teepee veterans’ memorial. There were also questionable university-paid staff trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas, among other places.
In January, a former member of the FNUC Students’ Association was charged after allegedly defrauding the association of $35,000. Blue Pelletier, 31, is alleged to have written student council cheques to himself between August 2006 and February 2007. He is facing one count of fraud and one count of theft over $5,000, and is scheduled to appear in a Saskatoon provincial court in June.
FNUC was federated in 1976 as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College and is the only university with the majority of leadership coming from the Aboriginal community. There are a total of 769 students enrolled at its main campus in Regina and its satellite campuses in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.