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Trudeau fails to deliver on election promise to support Indigenous post-secondary students

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In the 2016 federal budget, Trudeau failed to deliver on his explicit election commitment to invest $50 million per year in the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), a federal initiative that provides support to Indigenous and Inuit students pursuing post-secondary education. Instead, the Liberals invested no new funding in the program.

For the past 20 years, successive governments maintained a two per cent funding cap on the PSSSP. Funding fell far behind demand for post-secondary education, rising tuition fees and increasing living costs. As a result, thousands of Indigenous learners are denied access to education that is their right. With the limited funds available, Indigenous communities administering the funds are forced to make difficult decisions about which students in their communities receive support each year, and which do not. A process which Trudeau himself describes as "heart wrenching".

The Limitations of Recognition

Post-secondary education is a right of Indigenous people. It is, as Trudeau has recognized, both a fundamental right and a treaty right dating back to foundational nation-to-nation treaties.

Following the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to "fully implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission". Call to action #11 stipulates providing "adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education."

Just this past month, the Government of Canada announced its intention to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 14 of this Declaration states that Indigenous peoples have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination. Yet in his government's first real statement of priorities, Trudeau's first budget didn't mention the PSSSP once.

While the recent recognition of Indigenous rights is important, without the necessary funding to back it, how will Indigenous peoples' right to education ever become a reality?

We Must Act Fast

With less than a month remaining in the parliamentary session, we must act fast to see this broken promise remedied. If no additional investment is made in the PSSSP, we can expect that thousands of Indigenous learners will once again be denied funding when college and university classes resume in September.

The recent Supreme Court Daniels Decision ruled that the federal government has a constitutional responsibility to the nearly 600,000 Métis and First Nations people without registered status. This responsibility includes the delivery of social programs and services, such as support for post-secondary education. Since the inception of the PSSSP, Métis students have been deemed ineligible – a colonial tool used to divide Indigenous communities. If the federal government is to truly respect the Supreme Court decision, Métis and non-status students must be able to access post-secondary funds through the PSSSP. A significant additional investment is necessary to support these learners.

The Canadian Federation of Students has launched a national petition calling for the Government of Canada to immediately invest $50 million in the PSSSP and fully fund access to post-secondary education for all Indigenous learners. Our petition requires 500 signatures to enter the House of Commons and be tabled for a government response.

Stand with Indigenous students by signing this petition. If our government's pursuit of reconciliation is genuine, Canada must not break any more promises to the Indigenous peoples of this land.

Staff representing Minister Bennett's office has suggested to us that the money allocated to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is not completely finalized, and that the internal departments have significant power in determining final budget lines in the coming weeks. We are confident that with enough pressure on multiple fronts, our student movement can win this critical battle in the fight for accessible education.

Bilan Arte is the National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. The Canadian Federation of Students is the oldest and largest national student organization in Canada, representing over 650,000 college, undergraduate and graduate students across the country. Led by our National Aboriginal Caucus (NAC), the Federation has long advocated for the removal of all barriers faced by Indigenous students in pursuit of college and university education. NAC is the only democratic organization that represents Indigenous students in Canada. 

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Image: pm.gc.ca/PMO by Adam Scotti

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