Budget Crisis for First Nations University of Canada

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The First Nations University of Canada will have one fifth of its funding cut after April 1st. This is due to the Government of Saskatchewan withdrawing their $5.2 million of funding from the university’s annual budget. The funding from the provincial government accounts for one-fifth of the university’s budget.

The reason for the cut in funding was stated to be the provincial government losing confidence in the university’s board. This decision by the provincial government was announced while a meeting of First Nations leaders was being conducted just outside of Saskatoon. In the meeting, students of the university asked for the board to be replaced; however, their demand was not granted.

This is not the first budget crisis for First Nations University of Canada (FNUC); the government of Saskatchewan had previously stated that it was going to hold back $1.2 million in grants, until an external review of the university was conducted.

FNUC has been plagued with allegations of financial irregularities and accusations of endangerment of academic freedom since 2005. The Saskatchewan government is asking for structural reforms in the university and for the University of Regina to take care of the current students of FNUC.

The First Nations University of Canada is controlled by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN). The FSIN is currently planning out its next moves and hopes to have some reports on the financing of the university by March 1st. In response to the provincial government’s actions, the Federation has said that it would have liked the matter to be kept private and not publicized before both parties could come to a conclusion. The chairman of the board of FNUC, Clarence Bellegarde has stated that Rob Norris, the Minister of Advanced Education, should have discussed the matter with the Federation prior to the announcement.

As for the students, well, the provincial government has confirmed that the funding will be provided so that the current academic term is completed.

The federal government has refused to increase its funding for the university following Saskatchewan’s withdrawal. The other sources of funding for FNUC, such as the department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, are holding back $1 million until the university provides progress reports.

The university is currently in the process of getting an interim government in place and actions are being taken to replace the board. The University of Regina is currently overseeing the administration of FNUC. Chief Guy Lonechild, leader of the FSIN, has stated that these changes are being made to ensure that the university does not lose its federal funding. He has also said that the budget constraint has put further stress on the relations between the First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.

The university’s current predicament begs the question of its existence: How necessary is it to actually have a university devoted to Aboriginal studies? The First Nations University of Canada does not restrict its admissions to only First Nations students, but serves as a bridge between the Aboriginal communities.  It has specially designed programs that respect the “academic, cultural and spiritual needs of First Nations’ students”. Losing this university to budgetary constraints will be a great blow to relations between First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.

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