Plans underway for innovative Indigenous university centre in Quebec

The First Nations Education Council and Université Laval have signed an agreement to start working on an innovative Indigenous university centre.

Initiative at Université Laval hopes to decolonize education

people sitting at a table smile as they sign a document
The First Nations Education Council (FNEC) and Université Laval signed an agreement on Monday as they are starting to work on the business plan for an innovative Indigenous university centre. (Émilie Warren/CBC News)

Representatives of the First Nations Education Council [FNEC] and Université Laval signed an agreement on Monday to start planning what they say will be Quebec's first Indigenous educational hub.

The FNEC announced it is drafting a business plan for an initiative called "Maison des savoirs" — an Indigenous university centre which will be created by and for Indigenous peoples.

"This is a very important moment for me," said Innu elder Élisabeth Ashini, who said an opening prayer at the event.

"I know that elders of my generation, if they were here, they would be very happy."

Elderly woman speaks into microphone. She is wearing a colourful shawl over her shoulders.
Innu elder Élisabeth Ashini opened the news conference on Monday with a prayer. (Émilie Warren/CBC News)

Following the lead of other university campuses, such as University of Saskatchewan and University of British Columbia, FNEC, in collaboration with Université Laval, plans on offering its own holistic approach to education for Indigenous students.

Although the project is still in the planning stages, Denis Gros-Louis, director general of the FNEC, says it will involve three key elements: building a dedicated pavilion, offering courses on language and culture and building an elders' lodge.

The university says the hope is to provide learning opportunities inspired by the values, cultures, and languages of Indigenous communities and create inviting spaces for Indigenous students from across the province. Those involved say it can help decolonize post-secondary education.

Focus on 'doing things differently'

This project comes partly as a response to the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), particularly for access to higher education and the establishment of an education system by and for Indigenous peoples.

The focus will be on the ability to adapt the content of university programs to suit the needs of Indigenous students, says John Martin, chief of the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag and member of the FNEC Chiefs Committee.

"There's just an enormous potential for development in changing the way education is passed on to our students," said Martin.

He described the announcement as a milestone. In 1976, the Quebec government shut down Collège Manitou, a school for Indigenous students in La Macaza, Que.

Man looks to his right as he is speaking into a microphone as part of a panel of speakers.
Chief John Martin is a member of the FNEC Chiefs Committee, an association made up of 22 First Nations in Quebec working to exercise their right to full jurisdiction over education. (Émilie Warren/CBC News)

It was only in 2011, 35 years later, that Quebec got a school dedicated to Indigenous students once again, Kiuna College in Odanak, Que.

Offering diplomas in social sciences, communication, arts and literature, Kiuna is managed by the FNEC. Gros-Louis says the Université Laval project will build off what they have learned managing and creating Kiuna College.

Cathia Bergeron, vice-rector of academic and student affairs at Université Laval, says whatever topic, courses or programs are developed will be designed to meet the needs identified by communities.

"We're talking about doing things differently, not necessarily just replicating models that we already know at the university, but really trying to think differently and build something different," said Bergeron.

Investing $2M over 5 years

Université Laval has committed to spending $2 million dollars over the next five years to create a business plan for the initiative. Part of the agreement stands on the condition that the university consult with members of the community to develop the best approaches to guarantee students' success.

Copies of a paper agreement lay on a table
Representatives from FNEC and Université Laval signed an agreement as the first step in developing the Indigenous centre in Quebec. (Émilie Warren/CBC News)

The agreement should see more Indigenous leaders graduating, said Gros-Louis.

"It's not only about just health or education, [it's] about building our communities and moving forward," said Gros-Louis.

FNEC and Université Laval say the centre should reflect the values of teaching, research, and community service.

In the news release, Université Laval said the business plan must be approved by Indigenous leaders and the Ministry of Higher Education [Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur].


  • An earlier version of this story described Élisabeth Ashini as chief of Gesgapegiag and the FNEC Chiefs Committee. In fact those titles are held by John Martin.
    Dec 13, 2022 1:40 PM ET


Rachel Watts

CBC journalist

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec. You can reach her at

With files from Émilie Warren