BY BRENDEN ZERIHUN
The Liberal campaign during last year’s election promised to add $50 million per year to the indigenous program that distributes money to students to cover their post-secondary education. The recent budget failed to make good on this promise.
First Nations students who pay for post-secondary education face different obstacles, including a financing cap, which limits the program’s ability to keep up with tuition. The 2 per cent cap, which was put in place by the Liberal government in 1996, is a problem because average cost of tuition has doubled since the cap was introduced.
Elijah Williams, research assistant at the Centre for Indigenous Student Affairs at Sheridan College, says it’s important indigenous people receive the funding that was promised so the community does not feel short-changed.
“It is important because it would show that the Government of Canada is committed to the promises that they made, and when they don’t do that it show that they are just going to put indigenous issues to the side or wait until next year,” said Williams. “It shows that the government doesn’t really think indigenous people are worth the investment.”
A lot of people have the misconception that indigenous students go to school for free, but according to Williams that is not the case at all.
“The way the program works is like a scholarship. You have to apply every year. The program also has a system where students that are currently enrolled in post-secondary or fresh out of high school become the priority. If you didn’t get the chance to go to post-secondary right after high school its unlikely you’ll get funds when you try to go back to school.”
Currently Sheridan doesn’t have a system at the registrar’s office that tracks how many indigenous students attend the school. Prior to the aboriginal office opening at Sheridan three years ago there was no way of tracking past indigenous students. So far this semester 20 students have come to the office and identified as aboriginals.
“It shows that the government doesn’t really think indigenous people are worth the investment. – Elijah Williams”
Williams believes indigenous students that do show an interest in getting post-secondary education need to be supported because of the alarmingly high drop out rate among First Nations students. According to the Chiefs Assembly on Education aboriginal people aged 15 and over have a much lower educational attainment than their non-aboriginal counterparts, with 43.7 per cent not holding any certificate, diploma or degree, compared to 23.1 per cent for the Canadian population.
Some universities are trying to increase the rates of post-secondary education among First Nations students by creating mandatory indigenous based courses that all students will have to take. Williams believes this is should be introduced at Sheridan.
“Creating mandatory courses for non-indigenous people to know more about the history, because that’s where the true reconciliation is going to happen,” said Williams.
The Aboriginal Initiatives Centre is located in B-Wing at Trafalgar Campus. Follow the Aboriginal Initiatives Centre on Facebook or call 905-845-9430, ext. 5444.