A university for and by First Nations

René Martel – Local Journalism Initiative

The First Nations Education Council (FNEC) and Laval University signed an agreement last December to develop an Aboriginal university centre, the first of its kind in Quebec. The initiative aims to be a holistic approach to education defined by the will of FNEC member communities to ensure the sustainability of lifelong learning that will be inspired by First Nations values, cultures and languages.

This announcement is a continuation of a journey that began in the early 1985s when several Aboriginal communities wanted to take charge of their own education, notes Denis Gros-Louis, Executive Director of the Council for First Nations Education (CEPN). This is a logical continuation of the educational strategic plan of FNEC’s 22 communities.
Since everything has to start from the beginning, CEPN was created to support primary and secondary levels. “Now is the time to create our own university. It is time to take a new step,” Gros-Louis said.

This hub, or new university, will be predominantly indigenously managed and will aim to meet the training and research needs of First Nations, recognize their knowledge and skills through course content, and create a university education. A model specific to First Nations. The initiative, also known as the House of Knowledge, aims to be a holistic approach to education defined by the will of FNEC member communities to ensure sustainability of lifelong learning inspired by values, cultures and languages. from the first nations.

Plan

In the coming months, a business plan outlining a vision for sustainable university research by and for First Nations will be developed and approved by Aboriginal leaders as well as the Ministry of Higher Education. The first steps have been taken with Laval University in Quebec, but the goal is to spread the model to all universities in Quebec, Mr. Gros-Louis said. “The reality of our future graduates is that they have a family, and prioritizing that, whether it’s proximity to the place of study or the help we’re able to bring them, greatly increases the success rate.” Various First Nations communities with relatively young populations will be able to send many young people to university in a short period of time.

Work has already started and it is planned to establish the first university in 2026-2027. Mr. Gros-Louis tells us that the university community wants to see the first institution arrive as soon as possible. “I see a lot of solidarity, great support and enthusiasm from the university community. It is most encouraging. »

Challenges

There is also a desire to create a skilled and specialized workforce that understands the dynamics and realities of First Nations. “There are about 600 vacancies in education alone. We don’t have young university graduates to fill the gaps in education, health or social services. After finishing their education, our young people will definitely get a job and go to study.”

All the stars are aligned to create this university pole, but according to the CEO of CPEN, there are still big challenges to overcome, for example, more professors will be needed, but also more students. “In all of this, our mandate is to increase the number of graduates at the secondary, post-secondary, college and university levels,” he said. Graduates who can then fill available positions in the various communities of Quebec.

With this perspective, First Nations youth gain a future in communities by respecting and preserving their culture. The future looks extremely positive, concludes Mr Gros-Louis.

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