A beacon of light

Nov 13, 2003, vol. 28, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes

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An innovative, new program at Simon Fraser University promises to be a beacon of educational light for B.C. aboriginals seeking a path to effective self-government and sustainable economic wealth in Canadian society.

SFU's Chief Dan George Centre (CDGC) and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) in Merritt are jointly offering a university-level diploma and certificate programs in First Nations public administration (FNPA).

The two institutions are dedicated to making advanced education accessible to First Nations groups.

SFU continuing studies manages the centre while NVIT is an independent, provincially accredited college, owned and operated by its aboriginal founders in the Nicola Valley.

The CDGC and the institute launched their First Nations public administration programs at the centre's new home, the former Canadian Craft Museum at 639 Hornby St. in Vancouver this fall.

A certificate program consisting of 10 courses worth 30 credits and a diploma program, made up of 20 courses worth 60 credits, have already attracted 15 First Nations students from coastal B.C. and the Interior.

“NVIT needed a place to launch their programs on the Lower Mainland,” says centre director Darrell Mounsey, in explaining what brought the two schools together. “CDGC needed an institution that had a provincially accredited aboriginal curriculum with an indigenous perspective on aboriginal social and economic development.”

Open to aboriginals and non-aboriginals, the programs aim to help First Nations people, the fastest growing segment of Canada's population, acquire the administrative and managerial skills necessary to govern themselves effectively and flourish economically.

Students study business and government administration and management, and integrated studies. Courses will eventually be accessible through the Internet.

Students in the diploma program can specialize in one of three areas: First Nations education coordinator/director, First Nations health administration or band management.

With the launch of these programs, SFU and the institute are playing an integral role in helping B.C. aboriginals overcome the 80 per cent unemployment that they account for in most communities, says Mounsey.

“As aboriginals move from an era of land claims negotiations into one of self-government, they need to design and control structures that are sensitive to their culture and traditions,” explains Mounsey, a North Thompson native band member. “Otherwise, it is hardly self-government.”

Lyle Leo, a high profile member of the Lil'wat Nation near Pemberton, says the Lil'wat and the Squamish nations are keen to take advantage of the centre's and NVIT's flagship program.

Leo helped the Lil'wat and Squamish nations negotiate agreements with the provincial and federal government that will see the nations share multi-million dollar legacies for co-hosting the 2010 winter Olympics.

Much of the games will be held in an area of Whistler located in the Lil'Wat and Squamish nations' traditional territories.

“The First Nations public administration programs will help First Nations communities train the significant numbers of people needed to manage the economic development and business opportunities realized with the 2010 Olympic legacies,” says Leo.

The First Nations forestry manager and business negotiator adds, “The program's provision of aboriginal instructors and mentors will ultimately give aboriginal students the confidence to build healthy communities on and off their reserves.”

CDGC is awaiting confirmation from the federal and provincial governments of more than $100,000 in funding to help defray the cost of developing the First Nations public administration programs.

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