First Nations University looks ahead with five-year plan

Eric Bell
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“The First Nations University of Canada is here to stay” was the main message at the unveiling of their new five-year strategic plan at the Prince Albert campus on Tuesday.

The plan, entitled “lighting the path,” looks to meet the growing demand for indigenous education by expansion and promotion of the institution, while staying focused on the need of their students.

“What were looking towards is to maintain growth and enrolment, but also maintain stability in all of our programs and day- to-day operations including  finances and retention of staff,” acting president Juliano Tupone said. “But our main goal is to have everything revolve around our students.”

The past year has been a period of growth for the institution. A 15 per cent increase in student enrolment has seen an expansion in academic programming and the hiring of new faculty members. Part of the five-year plan to continue this growth involves an emphasis on student recruitment.

“I think what’s more important is reaching out to students at a young age and letting them know what opportunities there are for them out there because a lot of our students in our communities unfortunately don’t know about these opportunities  Tupone said. “Some of their backgrounds are such that some of our kids haven’t thought about going to university or SIAST or SIIT. What they need is some encouragement. They need our recruiters to go out there, our students and alumni to go out there and say ‘ hey this is something that you can do.’”

Part of the five-year plan also looks towards creating a more comfortable environment for students and reaching out to the community to gain a sense of what their needs are.

“We need to create an environment that’s more supportive of our students,” Tupone Said. “We need to listen to students and the people of the communities and what their needs are so we can fill some of those needs for them and make some opportunities a reality.”

During the plan’s unveiling, talk of the possibility of Prince Albert getting a new campus building also arose.

“In the near future we are looking at some opportunities with the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation,” Tupone said. “We are talking to them about the possibility of a new campus in Prince Albert. This facility has been our home in Prince Albert for 12 years, and serves us quite well but was never designed for the purpose of education. I’m told at one time it was actually an old department store. And we’ve made do, but our numbers are growing and there’s a lot of demand for our students here.”

FNU instructor Willie Ermine says that having their own building would mean a lot for the institution.

“We had a visioning process with the faculty and staff and one of the things that came out of that is that we definitely need a home in the north,” Ermine said. “Our campus right now, in actuality we have a building and go through all the motions of education, but part of our vision is a campus on first nations land, on treaty land, and a building that will be our home for education in the north.”

Though the university faces stiff competition from other post-secondary institutions, Tupone isn’t worried about it and is focused on the university’s growth.

“The issue of educating indigenous people is a large one in this province and across the country,” Tupone said. “So I don’t personally consider it a competition. When it comes to indigenous people and the need for them to get polytechnic training, applied training, and post-secondary university training, there’s a huge job at hand and we all have to work together. There’s so much work to be done and we need to focus on meeting the needs of the students rather than competing with each other.

Ermine believes that there will always be a place for indigenous educational institutions, calling the university unique in the way it teaches its students.

“The university is very different than mainstream institutions, but the academia is still there,” Ermine said. “Our students get western-style education, but are also made aware of, and learn our traditions. Our university graduates should almost get two degrees because not only do they know the western knowledge presented at the university level, but they also know about the traditions and the knowledge of our people.”  

Organizations: Prince Albert, First Nations University of Canada

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