News | Education funding runs out

Students push to scrap cap on aboriginal postsecondary education funding

An ongoing petition by the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation Community and the First Nations Education Council is asking Parliament to remove its cap on funding for aboriginal postsecondary education.

While the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) – a national student lobby group – and its member union at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) have not officially endorsed the petition, they are working for similar results.

“Even though aboriginal people are a growing demographic in Canada, the funding stays at this two per cent cap. It’s not enough funding for all the people who want to attend postsecondary institutions,” said Melissa Penney, director of advocacy for the MUN Students’ Union and regional aboriginal representative for the CFS.

Penney is also Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative on the National Aboriginal Caucus (NAC), a CFS caucus that acts as a voice for aboriginal students in Canada. She said the petition has been on NAC’s radar, and it is starting to get materials together to push a similar campaign of its own.

Penney felt putting more money into aboriginal education would mean increased enrolment and higher success rates among Canada’s First Nations Peoples.

“There’s not a lack of aspirations keeping people from attending post-secondary studies,” she said. “There’s no lack of interest; there’s a lack of funding to go.”

The petition, expected to reach 10,500 signatures this month, calls for the removal of Parliament’s two per cent annual growth cap for the amount given to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada – the federal ministry that funds aboriginal education through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP).

After PSSSP gives the money to the individual bands, they are then given the responsibility of deciding where the money must go.

“Some bands are facing really hard decisions, like: ‘Should we fund everyone in their last year of education, or should we give so much to each student and then they don’t have enough money for rent and food?’” Penney said.

Last year, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Development published a report titled “No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education In Canada,” which recommended dealing with the extension of postsecondary support to non-status First Nations and Métis students.

In the Conservatives’ 2009 budget, funding for on-reserve aboriginals and schools was directed to infrastructure projects alone, while also directing $200-million for skills training to help reduce unemployment rates.