Conflict over change to Aboriginal university
By Ben Fine
Many of Canada’s secluded Northern populations face
economic, geographic and cultural barriers to pursuing university
degrees. Often those most affected are First Nation Canadians,
and the province of Manitoba has sought to bring education
Students in northern Manitoba currently have two options when
it comes to post-secondary education: a local college or spending
$20,000 and drive six hours to the University of Manitoba — an
option beyond the means of many.
In 2002, the Manitoba New Democratic Party made an election
promise to introduce a new University College of the North. “[The
plan] conceptualizes a bold new teaching and research university,
concentrating in the area of Aboriginal studies,” stated
a report from the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations.
Under the current UCN proposal, the university would include
the existing facilities of Keewatin Community College located
in Thomson and The Pas in Manitoba. Students would then have
the option of beginning their studies at the diploma level
before seamlessly transferring to an accredited university
program, the report said.
The driving force behind the idea is to ensure there is no “wasted
education,” according to Doug Lovestead of Keewatin Community
The committee enlisted to gauge community sentiment soon scrapped
the central campus idea in favour of a decentralized, distance
studies-based university. The withdrawal of a major campus
centre from the table has since stirred debate.
The MOFA report insisted a central facility is the “key
component for making the UCN a success,” citing the requirement
for a central administration and other facilities comparable
to schools like the University of Manitoba or Brandon University.
“Anyone who has ever visited the Keewatin College facilities
in Thomson knows that the school needs an expanded campus.
It is bad policy to think that a proud new institution of higher
learning can be merely legislated into existence,” the
MOFA report argued.
According to Lovestead, one obvious problem of a centralized
UCN campus is the sparse population of the North. “The
reality of northern Manitoba [is that it is] a small population
spread over a vast geography.”
Placing a central campus in The Pas would still mean a 4.5
hour trek from Thomson, Lovestead said, adding the geographic
accessibility advantage of UCN over U of M is lost.
Lovestead pointed out that half the population of northern
Manitoba is Aboriginal and the government must be sensitive
to their needs.
Aboriginal students follow a different pattern of education,
explained Regna Darnell, director of First Nations Studies
at Western, adding aboriginal students seeking higher education
are often older students with families, who would find it difficult
to seek traditional means of higher education.