Sudbury group aims for educational equity for French and Indigenous post-secondary students

In response to the fallout from Laurentian's financial crisis, a group of education advocates has put together a proposal to support those affected by the university cuts.

Community leaders in Sudbury have come together to create the Tricultural Committee for University Education at Sudbury aimed at building more educational equity for English, French and Indigenous students. The group -- which is being led by members of the Save Our Sudbury community group -- presented a reconciliation declaration over ZOOM Thursday that highlighted some proposed next steps to restore equitable post-secondary education in the north.

"This is a first step. What you’re reading is a first step to clarifying a way forward and recognizing the three equal communities -- not operating on antagonism but operating as allies for a stronger educational system in northern Ontario,” said David Leadbeater, a former Laurentian University professor.

The group's ultimate goal is to see three stand-alone universities: anglophone, francophone, and Indigenous.

"This hasn’t been an official declaration of that but there is discussion with a northern institution on Manitoulin Island, called Kenjgewin Teg, and they are also in the process of securing their own degree-granting status. But that is in the works and that is something that we are -- in the Indigenous community -- being hopeful. Because it would be an Indigenous institute run by Indigenous for Indigenous with an inclusive mandate. And that’s where there has been discussions about the possibility of relocating the department of Indigenous studies content -- which is an already approved program -- over to Kenjgewin Teg if all works well in regards to the legalities and issues and so forth," said Will Morin, another former University of Sudbury professor.

While the hope of having these institutions remains on hold while court proceedings with Laurentian University's insolvency continue, for now, the group said its focus is on having people's voices heard.

“As soon as this process began, it was very clear that it was not taking into account the voices, as Will has said, of the Indigenous people. It was not taking into account the voices of francophone people. It was very much a colonial patriarchal view of what education should be and how it should be engaged in. And even though I, myself, am neither Indigenous nor francophone, I feel the pain and I was listening to the stories of all of the people who were saying this is incredibly disrespectful to us as a community, to us as individuals. And the only way to truly engage with that is to stand in solidarity," Scott Florence, Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre's Executive Director.

The next steps for the group include hosting several town halls to engage the community, beginning in October. Meantime, an Ontario court has given Laurentian an extension of its creditor protection until the end of January 2022.