The mysterious MOU

In March 2010, St. Thomas University signed an agreement with the National Centre for First Nations Governance that was lauded as being the first of its kind in Canada.

The memorandum of understanding said the two parties would work together to create programming for first nations students to learn more about governance and management skills.

NCFNG, a non-profit, focuses on developing independent self-management in first nations communities, many of which have been plagued with management problems.

“What that means for us is that there’s potential here for a bachelor’s program around first nations governance,” NCFNG president Herb (Satsan) George told The Aquinian two years ago.

He told the Daily Gleaner the signing of the MOU was an historic moment in Atlantic Canada.

But little has happened since the MOU made headlines in 2010.

Almost two years later, both sides agree not much has come of the agreement, with a lack of funding, partners and communication to blame.

STU spokesman Jeffrey Carleton said the university started talking to the University of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Community College after the MOU was signed to see if they were interested in partnering with them to develop a program.

But those talks didn’t go anywhere.

“The University of New Brunswick offers its own courses in this area through its Mi’kmaq-Maliseet institute,” Carleton said.

While this was happening, STU focused its resources on recruiting Aboriginal students to STU.

Communication between STU and NCFNG hasn’t been consistent and there were issues with the “organization of their office,” Carleton said.

NCFNG’s website says it has a Fredericton office, but there is no address listed and the phone number is out of service.

Sarah Morales, director of research at NCFNG, said staff at the Fredericton office are responsible for most of the contact with STU.

She said the file got neglected primarily because there hasn’t been any money to move it forward.

“We can’t provide any funding for program development based on our NGO status and what we’re permitted to give money for. It would have had to come from the university itself.”

Morales, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa, has been working on the file for about a year while filling in for someone on maternity leave.

This past summer, NCFNG tried to get something moving with STU and there was some communication between the two. But nothing came out of those talks.

“Because of funding restrictions at the university, the last that we heard, it couldn’t be pushed forward because of that. We haven’t really had any developments that have come out of it thus far – at least in terms of NCFNG’s side.”

Carleton said it’s hard to say what funding could be available for programming at STU with NCFNG because the university would need to know what the first nations organization would bring to the table and how it fits with what STU already offers.

“We haven’t made the progress we wanted to on the file because we’re not having success in developing the partners here in Fredericton we thought we would, so it’s too preliminary to talk about anything about funding,” Carleton said.

“We’re going to take the opportunity to sit down with them and look at their proposal again, knowing that we may not be able to have the kinds of partners we wanted, to see if there’s still some ways of co-operation between St. Thomas University and their organization.”

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