TORONTO, August 24, 2005 - A study released by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and prepared by the Aboriginal Institutes Consortium, representing eight Aboriginal post-secondary education and training institutes in Ontario, has found that there is a consistent pattern of systemic discrimination in the way the federal and provincial governments handles the education of Aboriginal students.
The report, Aboriginal Institution of Higher Education - A Struggle for the Education of Aboriginal Students, Control of Indigenous Knowledge and Recognition of Aboriginal Institutions, was released at the OUR CHILDREN, OUR FUTURE, OUR WAY conference sponsored by the Chiefs of Ontario. It examines the evolution of government support for Aboriginal students enrolled in post-secondary institutions and the development of Aboriginal post-secondary institutions, noting that it was only in 1968 the federal government adopted a policy to provide funding support for status Indians enrolled in post-secondary studies.
In 1972, the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) released a policy document, Indian Control of Indian Education, which reaffirmed the rights gained through treaties for Aboriginal peoples to be in control of their own education. The federal government adopted the policy a year later. Its shortcoming was that it was geared to elementary education.
"One of the excuses governments use to get out of their responsibility of funding Aboriginal higher-learning institutions is to play each off against the other," observes Lu Ann Hill, one of the authors of the report. "The federal government says that education is a provincial responsibility. The provinces say that the federal government is responsible for the education of Aboriginal persons. We are caught in the middle."
The report makes it clear that First Nations institutions have developed sophisticated programs which meet all the "established" criteria for graduation. Nevertheless, only a few have been granted the right to award their own degrees. It demands that all First Nations post-secondary institutions be given the same recognition.
Additional recommendations include obtaining sustainable funding comparable to mainstream institutions; ability to transfer credits earned in an Aboriginal institution to a mainstream school and vice-versa; increasing the amount of funding available for First Nations' student; making specialized funding available to address language issues, including language preservation; that the two levels of government and the Aboriginal communities to establish a formal process to develop policy and legislation to support Aboriginal education.
"Governments control of Aboriginal education has always been one of the ways they have used to try to assimilate Aboriginal peoples," observes Paul Winn, Vice Chair of the CRRF. "By not allowing Aboriginal tertiary institutions to grant degrees or certificates is one way they continue to exercise paternalistic control over Aboriginal peoples."
The conference was also the venue for the release of A New Agenda: A Manifesto for First Nations Education in Ontario, a foundation document adopted and endorsed by the Chief of Ontario.