Contextual Content

More Native Students Can’t Afford Higher Education

The First Peoples News Bureau investigates the 2 percent cap on
spending increases mandated by the Canadian government in 1996

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Story Transcript

WES MARSDEN, FIRST PEOPLES NEWS BUREAU: On September 23, 2010, First Nations and Aboriginal people from over 25 different communities across Canada gathered to rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The people rallied in Canada’s capital in order to make their voices heard in their search for equitable dollars for funding in the respect of education for aboriginal people. Back in 1996 the federal government of Canada instituted a 2 percent cap on spending increases in terms of funding for programs and services for First Nations and Inuit people. Most notably affected by these financial handcuffs is the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), a program which has been put in place to help offset the costs of aboriginal tuition and living expenses. In short, the dollars have been capped at 2 percent since 1996, and in the 14 years since, the dollars needed for tuition and the number of eligible aboriginal students has swelled dramatically.

GHISLAIN PICARD, REGIONAL CHIEF, QUEBEC/LABRADOR: It is our time. C’est notre heure. Welcome to the biggest powwow to be held on Parliament Hill yet.

MARSDEN: The rally was in the interests of funding for aboriginal education, specifically at the 2 percent cap, which Angus Toulouse explains just simply isn’t sufficient.

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MARSDEN: And just at the rally we were talking about the 2 percent cap.

ANGUS TOULOUSE, REGIONAL CHIEF, ONTARIO: Well, see, the problem with the 2 percent cap—. And it’s something that was instituted in 1996. And if you can appreciate, in 1996 a dollar was worth a dollar. And now that same dollar is worth just $0.23. So the purchasing power in 1996 is not the same as it is now, and that’s really the big issue. And what we’ve also seen is a huge growth rate in First Nation population. And I’m talking about the largest segment of our population in all our First Nation communities is under 23 years of age. And so that tells me that when you have a 2 percent cap, it limits the ability for First Nation communities to send their students out to post-secondary. It limits the ability of First Nations to provide the kind of instruction that they need to provide for their students. There’s—again, with the 2 percent cap, what it’s caused is no libraries, no computers, and these are basic equipment that any student ought to have in any school.

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MARSDEN: According to a 2008 report from the University of Regina, "[t]he evaluation also found the PSSSP guidelines for student living allowances were 14 years out of date, providing funding that ranged from $500 to $4,000 per academic year less than students’ costs." "In the five years after 1996 the number of First Nations post-secondary students had actually fallen by five per cent while the First Nations student-aged population had risen by seven percent." "[O]nly 9 per cent of aboriginal people 15 years of age or older have obtained a university-granted credential (degree, diploma or certificate) while 23 per cent of their non-aboriginal counterparts have done so. This is a substantial gap which appears to have widened since the last census."

TOULOUSE: Well, First Nation leaders and educators are saying we need First Nation control of First Nation education. Very clearly what the leadership and educators are saying [is] we need to be able to educate our own. We need to design our own curriculum that ensures that the language, the culture, the history is taught to the students. And, again, it’s—what we’re talking about is 2010. And we have sufficient educators within our First Nation communities, and they’re saying that we need control of our education.

MARSDEN: Recently appointed minister of Indian Affairs the Honourable John Duncan contends enough is being done in the government’s continued commitment to aboriginal people regarding funding for First Nations education.

JOHN DUNCAN, MINISTER OF INDIAN AFFAIRS: The government spends about $1.7 billion a year on First Nation education, plus we’re spending on average about $200 million a year on new schools. And we put some more in play with the economic action plan, the stimulus spending. So we are opening a school today in Manitoba, and we’ll be opening another school next month in northern Ontario. This is ongoing. We’re opening schools, new schools and replacement schools.

MARSDEN: At least one member of Parliament disagrees with this assessment, as he maintains there is no comparison regarding funding for native and non-native students.

CHARLIE ANGUS, MP, NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It’s absolutely disgraceful that in the 21st century you have Indian Affairs, which is in charge of education for tens of thousands of First Nation children, refusing to act—like, a proper school board, proper funding. I mean, any small rural school board in Canada has standards, and Indian Affairs has never bothered to put the standards in for class size, for student-teacher ratios, for special education funding, for ensuring that the funding for people is at the same levels that non-native children have. They’ve just gotten away with it because they didn’t think anybody would notice. And I think it’s time we shone a light on them and we said, hey, in the 21st century, all our children deserve the exact same rights to education. Well, we see our northern communities falling further and further behind because of the chronic underfunding—underfunding in housing, underfunding in education. The worst is is that we have probably—you know, our—the communities that are growing the most, the communities that I think have some of the greatest potential, are just being left behind, and it’s not right.

TOULOUSE: Well, the minister talked about excuses why they couldn’t deal with 2 percent cap. To me, that’s not very honorable when we talk about equity. And that’s all First Nation leadership’s talking about. Let’s be fair. Let’s treat our children the same, no matter which province they’re in, no matter which First Nation they’re in. They should all get equal kind of treatment from government in terms of the kind of resources that you get for instruction and these kinds of basic things.

SHAWN A-IN-CHUT ATLEO, NATIONAL CHIEF, ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS: They sat down with one another, and in sacred ceremonies calling upon the Creator as witness forged treaties, treaties that were based on mutual recognition, mutual respect, and to care for one another. That’s also what we’re looking for today from the descendants of those who forged those treaties so long ago. We’re looking for the same thing today. One of the first ways that we can do this is by Canada stepping forward, joining the global community, and fully endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

SHERRY MATTSON, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, CDCI WEST: I think part of that education is definitely starting with the youth, and as the youth come up being educated about Canada’s history and about understanding aboriginals’ rightful place in Canadian society, then hopefully as they grow up they can help to influence their parents, influence their neighbors, influence their relatives about the true history of Canada. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was declared in 1948 following the Second World War, and here we are in 2010 and Canada still hasn’t signed on to the United Nations Indigenous Declaration of Rights, Canada being one of only a couple of hold-out nations on that, which is disturbing, you know, as a person in 2010, wondering why is Canada one of the so-called foregoing, forefront of nations of human rights issues, and going into all other nations to talk about human rights, and here at home not recognizing indigenous rights.

MARSDEN: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. Wes Marsden, Ottawa.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.