The federal government is withholding $7.3 million in annual funding to the First Nations University of Canada despite recent restructuring. Ottawa first withdrew the funding on Feb. 8, days after Saskatchewan pulled its $5.2 million.
Originally run by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, FNUC has faced issues of financial accountability and governance since 2005. The university has suffered internal turmoil, with the dismissal of several senior officials and a number of incidences of financial irregularities and accusations that academic freedom is under attack. After several reviews and delayed reforms, the federal and provincial governments pulled their funding.
“This is a regrettable but necessary decision,” Rob Norris, the Saskatchewan minister for advanced education, said in a statement. “It is time for politicians to step back and the academic leadership to step forward. I encourage the University of Regina to work with relevant parties in identifying future directions for these student and their programs.”
Since the announcement, the FNUC has entered into a new arrangement. The board of governors has been dissolved and a new board has been organized to adhere to a shared-management arrangement with the University of Regina, next door to the campus. The University of Regina will control the FNUC’s finances, while it will remain separate as an academic institution.
Despite this restructuring, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl refused to reverse the cuts, citing the years of mismanagement and failed reforms.
In interview with the CBC, FNUC faculty association spokesperson Randy Lundy said that it’s impossible to run a university without the $12.5 million that make up half of the university’s annual budget, regardless of new a administration.
“The future of Aboriginal higher education in Canada is put in jeopardy if the FNU is forced to close its doors, because there are Aboriginal students, who, for various reasons, do not choose to attend a mainstream university,” Rauna Kuokkanen, a U of T political science and Aboriginal Studies professor, told The Varsity. Kuokkanen said that FNUC provides a different perspective on Aboriginal studies, structured specifically to reach out to Aboriginal students. She said the budget cuts undermine the federal budget’s pledge to allocate $30 million to improve education for First Nations peoples.