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Reserves Receive More Education Funds, Urban Students Cut

Bruce Spence

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 1982      v12 n01 p39  
Urban Indian students could find getting an education a bit rough on their wallets because the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND) will no longer provide education assistance for them. As of January 1, 1982, "educational assistance to urban Indians or status Indians living off reserve" will be cut off.

But, the director-general of DIAND for the Saskatchewan region says the total budget for education will increase in the next fiscal year.

"We're putting more money into education than we ever have in history," Owen Anderson said, "it's now a question of what our priorities are."

"It's true that as we go through the priority setting exercise, we curtail some activities and start others," Anderson said after attending a meeting of the Prince Albert district chiefs.

The Saskatchewan region will have approximately $55,000,000 in their education budget next year, an increase of $5,000,000 over last year, Anderson said that this money was destined for support to university students and on-reserve schools.

Education assistance to off-reserve Indian students was one of the first "activities" to get the axe and others were cast into doubt. Assistance was reluctantly restored to 130 students at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina after being unilaterally cut by the regional office and at least one school board is waiting for payment by DIAND for treaty Indian students within their system.

Details of band members adversely affected by the policy surfaced at the recent Prince Albert district chiefs meeting. One high school student attending school in Prince Albert because the school on her reserve doesn't offer grade 12 classes was denied assistance by the district office of DIAND as early as September, 1981.

Internal correspondence released by the DIAND district office in Prince Albert indicates the policy to stop education assistance was first suggested by the Saskatchewan region in September 1981, confirmed by Don Goodwin, the Assistant Deputy Minister of DIAND, in November and made official as of January 1, 1982.

The policy to cut education assistance to status Indian residents off-reserve is aimed mainly at Indian children in grades five to nine attending city schools. A $10.00 per month allowance will no longer be provided. Parents of children living off-reserve for whatever reason will also be faced with the bill for caution fees, school supplies, gym equipment and other special services formerly paid for by DIAND. Students at the Prince Albert Student Residence and those in the boarding home program are not affected by the policy but children whose parents are renting or own their own homes in the city, welfare recipients and Indian children living in foster homes are. The Prince Albert chiefs asked Owen Anderson to suspend the policy at least until the end of the fiscal year but this request was subsequently quashed by DIAND headquarters.

Urban Indians themselves are not the only people to feel the pinch created by the new policy. The Northern Lights School Division (NLSD) is still waiting for tuition payments for 864 treaty Indian students attending schools in this huge division which extends from the DNS line to the NWT border.

Joe Zbitnew, Chief Executive Officer of the NLSD says 25 percent of their school population are Indian. In the past, DIAND has paid about $3,500 for each of these 864 students. To date, payments for April to June 1981 and from September to December 1981 are outstanding. This amounts to over $2,000,000 owed to NLSD by the Prince Albert district office.

Len Neufeld, the district education superintendent in Prince Albert did not refute those figures. He said DIAND made a mistake paying for students living off reserve in the past. Neufeld said 65 students going to school off reserve in La Ronge actually live in the community and the province has the capability of taxing them. There is no provision for urban Indians in the Indian Act. "It would take considerable pressure at the Ottawa level to change that directive," Neufeld said.

Seventy-eight university students from the Prince Albert district who could be classed as urban Indians are not subject to the new policy, according to DIAND officials. But, 130 new students accepted by the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina were turned down by the regional office when applying for education assistance. This action was taken despite an agreement signed by DIAND to accept all Indian students, Louis Oakes, information officer at the college said in a phone interview.

He added that the 130 were reluctantly re-instated but only after political haggling in Ottawa between college staff, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians (FSI and DIAND).

"Because of this pressure, extra funds were found," Oakes said. Cutting off university students "could be the next step, and could happen again". He advised any post-secondary student denied sponsorship to contact the FSI or the federated college office in Regina.