It is an event that almost did not happen.
On Thursday, the First Nations University of Canada celebrated its tenth anniversary.
Hundreds showed up for the celebration held at the Regina campus.
Vice-president of academics at FNUC Lynn Wells says the institution is back on track and moving in the right direction.
“We are in a wonderful place, our enrolments are growing very well this year, we are at 755 registered students which is a high mark for us in the last five years,” she says.
Three years ago, in the throes of an internal scandal, the First Nations university was in danger of closing.
FNUC lost government funding, its professional standing and enrolment dropped to a couple hundred students.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde says the university has overcome many obstacles.
“You see 10 years later, when we opened the doors ten years ago and changed the name, to see that it’s here and enrolment is up, the governance piece is getting stronger and it’s getting healthy and more effective,” he says.
Enrolment has increased by 15 per cent and Wells says she expects this number will keep rising.
At its peak in around 2004, the institution had nearly 1,600 students but enrolment dropped to less than 300 in 2010.
Among the current full-time students is Jaqueline Anaquad who is also the president of the students’ association.
She says the university is a very comfortable fit.
“I am able to tap into my own knowledge system in the classrooms here and feel validated and respected for who I am,” she says.
Long time First Nations educator Blair Stonechild was part of the planning and development team for the First Nations university.
He also witnessed its struggles and near collapse in 2010 but says there has been a major shift since then.
“Absolutely, we’re on the right track,” he says. “I think there was a bump in the road and we are back to our mandate which is teaching, providing quality instruction and helping students and that’s what the focus should always be.”
Students, politicians, First Nations leaders, elders and Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Vaughn Scofield attended Thursday’s ceremonies.
FNUC is currently looking for a new president.