Indigenous, French and English communities come together to demand new Indigenous and French universities in Sudbury

By Drew Garvie 

On Thursday, September 9 the Tricultural Committee for University Education at Sudbury held a press conference to release a declaration demanding a new approach to university education in Sudbury and Northern Ontario. In the wake of deep cuts at Laurentian University disproportionately affecting French, Indigenous and Arts programs, the Tricultural Committee is calling for “independent yet cooperating Indigenous, Franco-Ontarian, and Anglophone universities that respond to the needs of communities in Northern Ontario.” The declaration is titled, “N’Swakamok Reconciliation Declaration: For an Equal and Truthful Trilateral Path to University Restoration at Sudbury.”

On April 12th of this year, Laurentian University announced that it would cut 69 programs and issue mass layoffs affecting 200 faculty and staff. 800 students had their chosen programs cut part way through their studies. The day was dubbed “Black Monday” by residents of Sudbury. The cuts were prompted by Laurentian entering into insolvency proceedings under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), the first time the CCAA has been used by a public institution.

The fight against the cuts did not end with the announcement and layoffs in the spring. The Tricultural Committee for University Education at Sudbury was formed by members of local Indigenous communities, representatives of “Save our Sudbury”, as well as the Coalition nord-ontarienne pour une université de langue française à Sudbury. According to the Committee they aim to “build bridges between communities affected by the cuts to programs and positions at Laurentian”.

The press conference brought media together with community leaders to introduce the Committee’s declaration which was just released and is reprinted below. The first speaker from the Committee was Will Morin, an Indigenous leader and former professor of Indigenous Studies who said Laurentian’s “restructuring plans mirrors colonial acts through exclusion of: unions (Labour Studies), women (Gender Studies), First Nations people (Indigenous Studies) and anything that stands in the way of the resource extraction industry.”

The now eliminated Indigenous Studies program was the second of its kind in North America. Canada has only one Indigenous university, First Nations’ University of Canada, in Saskatchewan.

Denis Constantineau, spokesperson for the Coalition nord-ontarienne pour une université de langue française, pointed to the fact that Laurentian is still receiving stable funding for French education, despite the fact that they have cut 28 francophone programs. He said that Laurentian had “lost the confidence of the Franco Ontarian community”. The Regroupment des professeur.e.s francophones de Sudbury, representing French speaking professors, voted overwhelmingly in support of establishing a new Francophone university and for the transfer of any remaining French language programs from Laurentian to this newly proposed institution.

The Tricultural Committee is not only calling for the creation of Indigenous and Franco-Ontarian Universities, but they are also calling for change at Laurentian itself. David Leadbeater, a professor of Economics employed at Laurentian until this spring when he was one of approximately 200 employees terminated by the Laurentian Board under the CCAA process, expressed a key demand of the Committee when he stated that Laurentian’s administration and Board of Governors should be replaced, “on account of their multiple failures and incapacity to stand up for Northern Ontario’s communities.”

David Leadbeater has published a recent study on the public funding crisis facing Northern universities criticizing the provincial and federal governments’ policies leading to greater privatization including skyrocketing tuition fees and cuts to arts and basic sciences.

The declaration calls for action from both the Federal and Provincial governments, including “emergency funding and increased long-term funding to support the rebuilding of university education at Sudbury.” It calls for “all provincial and federal emergency funding to rebuild and sustain Indigenous and Francophone programs should go directly to the emerging Indigenous and Franco Ontarian universities, not to Laurentian University.” The declaration makes clear that Laurentian’s bilingualism strategy has been a failure and that the mandate for Laurentian should be changed “to reflect that the leadership and funding for Indigenous and Franco Ontarian education and research has passed forward from Laurentian to the new Indigenous and Franco Ontario universities.”

The Tricultural Committee outlined next steps for their campaign which will include inviting people to sign on to the declaration and join the demands for three “independent universities representing Indigenous, Franco Ontarian, and Anglophone communities with equal rights working mutually for the common good of the peoples and land of Northern Ontario.” The Committee will be hosting townhall meetings, beginning in October to discuss these community demands and the future of post-secondary education in Sudbury.

The “N’Swakamok Reconciliation Declaration: For an Equal and Truthful Trilateral Path to University Restoration at Sudbury” is available in its entirety in French and English here.

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