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Profile: First Nations University of Canada

More about some of the people from the 8th Fire TV series.

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Saskatchewan's First Nations University of Canada (FNUC) attracts Aboriginal students looking for an alternative to mainstream Canadian universities, where they often make up only one percent.

Those who do make it are a minority, about eighty percent of Aboriginal youth never make it to college or university at all.

Students say they are drawn to FNUC because of the curriculum (which incorporates Aboriginal issues) and the supportive community.

Meet three of those students: Cassandra Opikokew, Penny Smoke and Jacob Pratt.

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Cassandra Opikokew is a member of Canoe Lake Cree Nation and was raised in Meadow Lake, in northern Saskatchewan.

She graduated from FNUC two years ago with a certificate in Indian Communication Arts.

"First Nations University is not some academic institution that's meant to be off in a corner. It was something that was built from a grassroots effort by Aboriginal people in this country to control our own education." she says.

Cassandra is now working on an M.A. in Public Administration at the University of Regina. Her research focuses on policy aimed at increasing the number of Aboriginals getting post secondary education in Saskatchewan.

She is critical of the government policies regarding Aboriginal education. The government will "choose to spend money in one way or the other. They're going to choose to spend it on jails and institutions, and medical facilities and child welfare, or they can choose to invest in education and see greater returns in the end," she says.

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Penny Smoke is a Cree who grew up on the Kawacatoose First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan. She's studying journalism.

Seventy percent of the students at the university are women. Like Penny, many of them are single mothers. She has three children and she says she wants them "to know that it's normal for kids to go to school every day".

Her grandmother, a medicine woman, told her "today, education is our buffalo", meaning that education is the way of survival in the new world.

Penny's dream is to tell the stories of Aboriginal people at a network like APTN.

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Jacob Pratt is a Dakota / Saulteaux. He's studying business management at FNUC and is also a traditional flute player who performs internationally .

Along with his studies, Jacob is also an active volunteer. He teaches young "at-risk" kids and teens. He says that sharing his cultural heritage is a way of honouring those who taught him.

"I chose First Nations University because it's an institution where my people are represented. We're surrounded by our languages, even the structure of the building is based on First Nations culture. "

Jacob released his first album in 2011 and was awarded best flute CD at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards.

Links

First Nations University of Canada