Educators Offer First Nations U Mixed Review

Nov 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 15-2: Reclaiming Native Health, Tribal College News

Saskatchewan Indian Federated College unveiled spectacular new facilities last summer and renamed itself “First Nations University” (FNU). The decision was hailed in Indian Country Today as “North America’s first all-aboriginal university.” However, other Canadian indigenous educators said the significance should not be over stated.

In Canada, tribes are referred to as “First Nations.” First Nations University’s new facilities at Regina surpass those of the dozens of other First Nations-controlled colleges across Canada and may have cost more than all of the others combined. Like tribal colleges in the United States, the Canadian colleges began in abandoned federal facilities over the past 30 years. Unlike U.S. tribal colleges, most tribal colleges in Canada still lack their own new buildings. First Nations University, however, opened a new, “$25 million, four-story, 150,000 square foot architectural marvel,” according to Indian Country Today. One of the major financial contributors to the university was the federal government.

In the United States, some tribal college officials are exploring establishing a national Indian university to serve all tribes. Others fear that such an institution would take funds away from the chronically under-funded colleges that serve specific Indian tribes.

“We are happy for them and glad they have new status,” said Marie Smallface Marule, president of the First Nations Adult and Higher Education Consortium, a group of western Canada tribal colleges. However, the disparity in resources clearly rankles officials of other colleges in Canada.

At a meeting between Canadian and U.S. tribal colleges last July, Marule and Vivian A. Youngman made it clear that the Saskatchewan-based College’s decision to declare itself a First Nations University was unilateral. Saskatchewan Indian Federated College officials have not participated in the national consortium of tribally-controlled colleges in Canada. Governed by a board of First Nations within the province, First Nations University is not accountable to First Nations elsewhere in Canada, despite its new name, according to Youngman. First Nations University did not gain independent degree-granting status. It is still a part of the University of Regina.

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