Ottawa pulls funding for First Nations University

With funding from both levels of government eliminated, future of institution in peril.

The federal government has pulled funding from the First Nations University of Canada over ongoing concerns with finances and governance. Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl says his department won’t renew about $7.3 million to the Regina-based institution effective March 31.

For more on this story, please click here.

“For some time now, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has worked with the First Nations University of Canada to help it address long-standing, systemic problems related to governance and financial management of the institution,” Strahl said in a news release Monday. “There have been repeated delays by the institution to take action on these matters. This situation can no longer continue.”

The aboriginal university opened in 2003 with the idea that education would be to the future of young aboriginal people what the buffalo was to past generations. But it has been under a cloud for virtually its entire existence.

There have been allegations of financial mismanagement and political interference by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations which oversees the school. The federation would not comment on Ottawa’s decision.

Problems erupted in 2005 when a federation vice-chief, who was chairman of the board of governors, suspended several senior administrators, seized the university’s central computers and copied the hard drive with all faculty and student records. The federation set up an all-chiefs task force that recommended governance changes, but they were never made.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada put the university on probation in 2007. That was lifted in 2008 but later that year the Canadian Association of University Teachers voted to censure the school for “its ongoing failure to resolve the serious problems with the governance of the university.”

A provincially funded operational review said in January 2009 that the school needed a smaller, less politicized board.

A wrongful dismissal suit recently filed by a former financial officer at the university alleges there were questionable travel expenses and paid vacation time. A financial audit has been ordered and is to be completed by March.

Ottawa’s move comes after the Saskatchewan government’s decision last week to cut $5.2 million in funding to the school. That’s about 20 per cent of the university’s budget.

Strahl said he has told Indian Affairs officials to work with their provincial counterparts, the University of Regina — which has an academic partnership with the aboriginal university–  and other stakeholders to find solutions that will help students and faculty in the weeks ahead. “I understand that these are difficult times for students and faculty. My primary interest is to ensure that students are able to complete their academic year,” said Strahl.

The Canadian Press