'It's frustrating,' Laurentian Indigenous advisory group left out of university discussions
SUDBURY -- It's been a tenuous time for all on the Laurentian University campus, but particularly for those involved in Indigenous Studies.
The Laurentian University Native Education Council (LUNEC) said Tuesday it has been left out of all discussions surrounding its fate and the future of the school.
The program is currently housed in the University of Sudbury, which is also embroiled in its own legal challenge with Laurentian, as the university's administration looks to end the relationship with its federated universities.
In a statement through the university website, where Laurentian has been putting its information as it to the CCAA process, Laurentian has said it is working on creating a vibrant program.
The website said the two schools have come to an interim agreement, outlining negotiated terms, and they've agreed to allow Laurentian to teach six Indigenous Studies courses this spring (previously taught by the University of Sudbury).
The administration said they will continue to consult with LUNEC during the spring and summer to determine how best to deliver Indigenous education at Laurentian University.
Moving forward, they plan to ensure the roughly 140 students who were registered in the program have access to courses rooted in Indigenous perspectives, already offered through the Faculty of Arts.
LUNEC is not impressed by those words.
"That's a great statement but it's just a statement," said LUNEC member and former chair Roxane Manitowabi. "There have been no formal conversations, we've never come to the table and said 'what does that look like.'"
Manitowabi wonders how a cash-strapped institution will be able to create a program from scratch.
'It takes money, it takes faculty'
"It takes money, it takes faculty, it takes writers and those are all things that we've lost along the way," she said.
"It's frustrating. Historically, anytime the university had plans to change anything that affected Indigenous education, they would consult with LUNEC and seek out and ask our advice and recommendations, but through this whole CCAA process, that's ceased to exist."
Manitowabi said they saw Laurentian University president Robert Haché attend one of their meetings, but he couldn't provide them with any answers they needed.
She said much remains unclear about the future of Indigenous Studies.
"LUNEC was never a part of the decision to go for insolvency or apply for insolvency, we haven't been part of the decision to cut the ties with the federated universities and cutting those ties has had a huge impact because Indigenous Studies are housed at the University of Sudbury," Manitowabi said.
"Indigenous Studies needs to continue in our community and students deserve to be educated in the north and we've written formal letters to the justice, Father Meehan and Robert Haché expressing those concerns."
She's not sure about what the program will look like moving forward as the faculty are members of the University of Sudbury, which has also expressed interest in becoming a francophone institution.
"Yes, there is a commitment to the tricultural mandate, but at the end of the day, we have to ask the hard questions, questions like what is that going to look like," said Manitowabi.
Darrel Manitowabi is an associate professor in Indigenous Studies that was part of the University of Sudbury, and is currently teaching in the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which is also being granted its independence.
Great deal of uncertainty
He said there is a great deal of uncertainty with everyone on campus at the moment.
"It's been a state of uncertainty since Feb. 1, with the insolvency and one could have only have imagined what path this would take us," he said. "It's taken us down a path that I don't think anyone was prepared to take and the challenges continue to emerge. What is the future of Indigenous Studies? I never thought I would be asking that question."
Darrel Manitowabi, who is also the inaugural Jason A. Hannah chair in the History of Indigenous Health and Medicine, said he has concerns about where this is all heading.
"It's essentially a dismantling of all the work that Indigenous education stakeholders have been involved in over the last decade," he said. "My concern is the legacy, those courses come from a particular point in time, the University of Sudbury's formation when it goes back to Indigenous Studies and there's very important individuals who made contributions to those courses."
"There's a history behind those courses, there's a spirit and soul behind that program" he added. "It has a very strong community connection and if no one is there to move that connection forward then it will be lost … It's like the saying goes, if it's not broken, don't fix it. And we were far from broken."