Aboriginal Students spiked in game of federal-provincial volleyball

    By Karihwakeron Tim Thompson
    President and CAO, First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI)

    OTTAWA, June 28 /CNW Telbec/ - "The education of Indians consists not
merely of training the mind but of a weaning of the habits and feelings of
their ancestors and the acquirements of the language, arts and customs of
civilized life." Egerton Ryerson, 1847
    Egerton Ryerson is celebrated as the father of the public school system
in Canada. Few Canadians know that as a consequence of a report on Aboriginal
education he tabled to the government of the day Mr. Ryerson is also the
father of the residential school system which has left a legacy of
inter-generational social and cultural disruption among the many nations of
Indigenous peoples across Canada.
    "I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of
fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are
able to stand alone... That has been the whole purpose of Indian education and
advancement since the earliest times... Our objective is to continue until
there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the
body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department...".
Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, 1920
    The residential school system was the primary weapon to implement a
federal policy designed to destroy the cultural identities of Aboriginal
peoples. Despite the fact that academic education was far from a priority of
these institutions, the federal government of the day did consider the
possibility that "civilized" Aboriginal people might be able to experience
higher education. Under the Indian Act, an individual would be required to
give up their identity and all rights as an Aboriginal person in exchange for
the right to get a post-secondary education. This law did not change until
1951 - for many of us, this is our parents generation. Is it any wonder that
there are significant gaps in education attainment between Aboriginal peoples
and Canadians?
    First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) is an Aboriginal controlled
post-secondary institute which was created in 1985 to provide access to
post-secondary programs for Aboriginal people. We are succeeding.
    FNTI offers a variety of degree, diploma and certificate programs in
partnership with provincially recognized colleges and universities. The
Institute has gained international recognition for work in Prior Learning
Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) and adult education initiatives. Our annual
conference is attended by delegates from around the world. This has led to our
involvement in working with Indigenous nations, state governments, and
industry in countries such as South Africa, Ecuador and Chile. Ironically, our
international engagements are bringing us significant recognition. Yet here in
Ontario, Canada, we exist as the unwanted relative that neither jurisdiction
wants to acknowledge.
    The federal government has constitutional responsibility for "Indians"
and acknowledges its responsibility for education on reserve. However, the
federal government has attempted to limit its legal responsibility to Grade 12
and takes the position that post-secondary is a provincial responsibility. I
don't think they've ever told this to the government of Ontario so I fear I
may be releasing secret information. In Ontario, Aboriginal controlled
institutions are not considered as colleges or universities but are instead
treated as "Indians" which, of course, are a federal responsibility. FNTI is
tired of being in the middle of an endless jurisdictional volleyball game.
    Because we exist on the periphery of the post-secondary education system,
we must engage in partnership agreements with mainstream colleges and
universities in order to "accredit" our programs. Although we have valued
partnerships, forced paternalism can be difficult to stomach. I'll let out
another secret but please don't tell Ontario - many of our partners are never
actually seen because they simply leave us alone to develop and deliver
post-secondary education initiatives without their involvement.
    Each year, we await an annual allocation from both governments. The
federal allocation is based not on any educational outcomes, but on historical
amounts. Despite growing from seven post-secondary programs last year to
eleven this year with approximately 400 students, federal funding which we use
to support core operations has declined by 50% since 2004. FNTI received a
letter this year which advised that there are no guarantees to maintain our
funding levels next year and to be prepared for additional cuts. I guess we
have to go back to South America once again to feel good about ourselves.
    Last week we were informed that in the upcoming school year the
government of Ontario values an Aboriginal student attending FNTI at $1677,
approximately 20% of the value of a student attending a college or university
in this province. This is expected to cover all costs associated with the
delivery of a post-secondary program while also acknowledges that we must pay
some of our partners for accreditation arrangements. I'll be frank - we cannot
deliver a Mohawk Language Immersion program for $11,000 a year, but we'll
somehow find a way. I'm pretty certain French and English language programs in
other colleges and universities are compensated at a somewhat higher rate.
This is where the jurisdictional volleyball game becomes a game of chicken.
Each government assumes that by placing the future of 400 Aboriginal
post-secondary students at risk, the other government will step in and ensure
operations continue uninterrupted. But what if neither government decides to
step up?
    The Premier of Ontario would like to be known as the education Premier
and established some impressive credentials early in his term in office. His
government even created a post-secondary access and opportunities strategy for
Aboriginal peoples and historically disadvantaged people. However, there is no
way to accept inaction on the outstanding matter of equity for FNTI and
Aboriginal controlled institutions in Ontario. It would be a tragedy if FNTI
was forced to eliminate initiatives because of a failure of leadership in
Ontario. I hope the Premier will take corrective measures immediately to
ensure that this does not happen.
    Why place the onus on the Premier and not the federal government? Well,
it seems logical given that we do deliver provincially recognized education
programs within Ontario. When one considers that the federal funding formula
for First Nations elementary and secondary schools has not changed since 1987,
and a recent post-secondary education report by the Minister of Indian Affairs
to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples failed to even
make reference to Aboriginal institutions, one can guess that change on the
federal side is likely going to take a long, long time.
    So, Premier McGuinty, will the legacy of your initial term in office be
one of groundbreaking leadership in achieving equity for FNTI and Aboriginal
institutions? Or will you simply allow the status quo to prevail where the
Institute and its students are placed at risk? I think you have shown your
good heart in education and I trust you will act quickly to address the
inequities. With fairness and equity, I have no doubt that significant
accomplishments will be made in Aboriginal education in Ontario.

    Karihwakeron Tim Thompson
    President and CAO
    First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI)
    3 Old York Road,
    Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario. K0K 1X0
    (613) 396-2122 ext. 133

For further information:

For further information: Karihwakeron Tim Thompson, President and CAO,
First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI), (613) 396-2122 ext. 133

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