I Wish

We all remember the “apology” given to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples less than a year ago by Stephen Harper for the genocidal crimes that took place in residential schools across the country.

In his speech, Harper expressed his sincere regrets for the thousands of former students who died as a result of the assimilation policy. Wait, did I say sincere? Because by the looks of things today, Aboriginal students seem to be at the bottom of Harper’s agenda.

Aboriginal students currently use the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), a non-repayable grant program managed by band councils to provide Aboriginal students with funds for university or college. The PSSSP operates on very limited funds, though. Last year, nearly 3,000 Aboriginal students couldn’t move on to higher education because they didn’t have the financial means. And that’s in addition to the 10,500 plus students left out from 2001 to 2006 due to underfunding as well.

With numbers like those, the graduation rate in the Aboriginal community is among the lowest in Canada, something that the government has promised to make improvements on.

And yet, Ottawa is currently proposing to take the controls and $314 million in grants of the PSSSP out of the hands of First Nations and into the hands of a third party, possibly the Canada Students Loans Agency.

By doing that, the PSSSP would become a repayable loans program. This not only strips away resources and opportunities to education for Aboriginal students, it makes them more vulnerable to extreme debt, something that is already plaguing non-Aboriginal students borrowing government loans. With such a change, First Nations post-secondary institutions will most likely receive little to no funding. This kind of change would erode First Nations treaty rights to education.

Call me crazy, but doesn’t that sound like an attempt at assimilation, something that Harper said had “no place in our country?” Where is the lesson that was learned? Clearly, there was none.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is reviewing these changes. In the meantime, the First Nations Education Council has circulated a petition opposing an end to the PSSSP. They have gotten over 16, 000 signatures and counting. | Sign Petition Now

Photo By: Christopher Kosek (www.christopherkosek.com)