As someone who teaches aboriginal education to students, the content of my courses includes the devastating effects of colonial policies on aboriginal peoples, such as the residential school system and how it contributed to the loss of aboriginal languages and culture.
I now have to include a section on how the administrators of First Nations University and the Chiefs of Saskatchewan have further contributed to that loss.
First Nations University was supposed to be a model of what aboriginal people could do if given control over their education system. Unfortunately, from the beginning, the Chiefs of Saskatchewan began interfering in its management.
Eventually, they forced out some of the top aboriginal scholars from their faculty and administrative positions and, subsequently, put in their place persons that have allegedly taken money illegally for their own personal purposes.
Censured for political interference by Canadian Association of University Teachers several years ago, First Nations University has now had its funding cut by the Saskatchewan government and it looks likely that the federal government will follow suit.
This is a shame. The students of First Nations University are in a unique position to become future leaders of their communities. As it stands, aboriginals are all left with the embarrassment and repercussions from the mismanagement of what was once a model institution of higher learning.
It begs the question: What does this say about our ability to run our affairs?
There wasn’t any reason for it happening other than aboriginal leaders wanting to assert their power and control over the institution and the students within.
There is a fear among some aboriginal leaders, many of whom are less educated than the students in First Nations University, that they will lose their power base if aboriginal students graduate and become more educated than them.
Therefore, they would rather scuttle the education of the students than face the graduates when they return to their communities. In this case, these leaders are to blame for trying to destroy the future of their children and not the government.
Brian Rice is an associate professor of education at the University of Winnipeg.
Published in Volume 64, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 11, 2010)