Since its inauguration in 2007, Indigenous Access McGill (IAM) has provided support to Indigenous students, primarily at the School of Social Work. As one of several faculty initiatives designed to encourage the participation of Indigenous communities at the university, IAM offers mentoring, tutoring, and advising services that aim to help Indigenous students succeed, as well as serving as a focal point for students to meet and support one another. The program also advises any student who has an interest in Indigenous issues, creating dialogue that helps widen access to marginalized communities on campus.
Until last semester, IAM received two separate three-year grants from Health Canada and the Counselling Foundation of Canada; however, the grant was not renewed for this academic year. In the meantime, the Faculty of Arts has guaranteed the salaries of the three staff working at IAM for this academic year; however, this funding is not nearly adequate and only allows the organization to subsist. As of yet, no permanent funding solution has been found and IAM remains in danger of being scrapped.
The situation is especially worrisome given the notable success of the program. Since its inception, there has been a marked rise in the numbers of graduate and undergraduate Indigenous students at the School of Social Work. If McGill is to increase the accessibility of its courses to Indigenous students, IAM should be considered an integral part of this process.
On January 22, Arts Senator Claire Stewart-Kanigan asked the university Senate how McGill would support IAM in the future, and whether internal funding would be considered. The Senate’s response heavily emphasized other university programs designed to encourage Indigenous access while acknowledging the critical success of work done by the IAM. They conceded, however, that the financial situation for higher education in Quebec remained difficult, and did not explicitly safeguard the continued existence of IAM.
McGill has attempted to deflect attention by directing its response toward already existing programs, implying that the existence of organizations like the First Peoples’ House negates the importance of more specialized, smaller-scale programs such as IAM. The university Senate’s response also highlights that it believes it is already doing enough to boost Indigenous participation at the university; this is patently false.
Usually small programs like IAM are run on trial bases and funded externally to begin with. If proven successful it stands to reason that such programs should receive University funding. The evasiveness regarding whether to grant internal funding is part of a wider trend. McGill has a history of underfunding or ignoring small but important initiatives, such as SACOMSS, which receives no University funding, yet provides an invaluable service to the McGill community.
IAM has a mission that is distinct from other Indigenous access initiatives at McGill; what’s more, it has been a proven success. Financial difficulties aside, the University should act now to fund IAM directly. A decline in equal access to education is more costly than giving IAM the funding it needs and deserves.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board