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Students protest changes at First Nations University
Students from the First Nations University marched in downtown Saskatoon Thursday to send a message about a recent enrollment freeze.
Published Friday, March 21, 2014 6:43AM CST
Last Updated Friday, March 21, 2014 6:58AM CST
A protest in downtown Saskatoon today turned heads on Thursday as students from the First Nations University gathered to send a message about a recent enrollment freeze.
"How do we grow, when we have no students? How do we get out of debt when there's no students coming to Saskatoon campus?" said Juanita Stone, an indigenous social work student and protest organizer.
The university has decided to suspend enrollment applications for the indigenous social work program. Enrollment is down in Saskatoon but up at the Regina and Prince Albert campuses. The program will now be available at those locations instead of Saskatoon.
"Saskatoon is home of the program, and there is no way that we can possibly let got of that program because the home fire started here in Saskatoon in 1976, and we would like that home fire to continue to burn here in Saskatoon," Stone said.
Currently there are only 50 students in the program with 40 in their qualifying year. According to the university, the numbers are not viable.
"We've had very low enrollments at the Saskatoon campus. And it's created some difficulties in delivering the program,” said Juliano Tupone, the university’s acting president.
“But the students who are currently enrolled in Saskatoon will be able to finish up their programs there."
That won’t happen at the university’s current downtown campus however. The campus will be moving to English River First Nation's facility at Grasswood. This worries the students.
"This is going to cause a lot of hardships for the students because we have easy access here in downtown, but when it's going out of the city with no transportation, just that in itself is going to be enough," Stone said.
The university disagrees. Tupone says there will be transportation and the move is an idea brought forward by staff.
"The First Nations employees at our Saskatoon and Prince Albert campuses, they were no longer exempt from paying federal or provincial income tax,” Tupone said. “That's created quite a significant change and burden to those affected staff members. So a commitment was made by our board, at the request of our staff, to locate our campuses onto First Nations reserve land."
The university says there are no plans to close the Saskatoon campus but there will be a review to find out which programs should be offered.