Chief Guy Lonechild of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations chats with students at First Nations University during a pizza lunch Friday. ((CBC))

The troubled First Nations University of Canada does not have a board of governors and its senior administrators are on a forced leave, but students and political leaders are expressing optimism about the institution's future.

"Our future looks pretty bright," Cadmus Delorme, a vice-president of the student association, told reporters Friday during a pizza lunch at the Regina campus.

"When we heard the news that the chiefs had dissolved the board, it was happiness to our hearts. It's been a roller-coaster journey."

Turmoil at the university has been brewing for years as it grappled with controversies surrounding senior staff and allegations of political interference and mismanagement.

"It's a learning experience," Delorme said. "But I'm ready to be a student again."


Chief Guy Lonechild says an interim board for First Nations University will be in place early next week. ((CBC))

On Thursday, after an intense two days of deliberations, chiefs of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations — which controls FNUC — voted to dissolve the university board and place senior administrators on leave.

Triggered by funding cut

The dramatic move was precipitated by the announcement Wednesday that the Saskatchewan government was cutting its funding of the university, effective April 1.

On Friday, during the lunch with students, Chief Guy Lonechild of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said fears that federal funding would also be cut led the chiefs to act.

"We know that without federal funding, this institution would not have been able to continue," he said. "We view this as having to make that decision to save the university and its future."

The federation has already received letters from people interested in being on an interim board, said Lonechild, who suggested 11 or 12 members might be appropriate. A group of chiefs in the federation will choose the interim board early next week, he said. 

Funding questions lingered on Friday as Lonechild called on the province to reverse its decision to pull the $5.2 million Saskatchewan provides to the university. The money represents about a fifth of the school's annual budget.

Rob Norris, the minister of advanced education, employment and labour, told CBC News the decision to cut funding was firm.

"At this time, certainly, our position is we're not going to go back," Norris said Friday. "But we certainly are open-minded."

The fate of $7.3 million in federal grants to the university remained uncertain Friday.

"We're calling on the students and everyone else, all the stakeholders here, to ensure the federal funding is maintained," Lonechild said.

Although university administrators were put on leave, other officials from the institution will be on the job, although closely monitored, Lonechild said. He also said that he, the clerk of the legislature and the legal counsel for the federation will be among those helping with the transition.