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Indian Students Protest Capped Educational Funding

Ivan Morin

Indian leaders support students
The Federal Building in Saskatoon
was the site of demonstrations.
Capped educational funding was the focus of attention as approximately one hundred placard-carrying students and supporters picketed in front of the Saskatoon office of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs on September 15. They were protesting what they see as a breach of their aboriginal right to post-secondary education. The well-organized protest was a cooperative effort by the Indigenous Students Council (ISC) and the Student Council of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. Students from across the country participated in similar demonstrations during the day.

The Students Council says this year over one thousand Indian students will be denied educational assistance. In Saskatchewan last year, over six hundred students were denied educational assistance.

The Indigenous Students also say that present funding is inadequate in a number of cases, and doesn't reflect the true need of students. They say that any Indian student who is eligible should be given adequate funding. The students say there should be not limitations to Treaty rights as they relate to education.

At present, single students with no dependants receive $532 per month, from which they are expected to pay rent and cover all other living costs for the month. The students say this is inadequate and that in most cases there should be some form of rent subsidies, as well as day care subsidies for those who need it.

Tyrone Tootoosis, spokesman for the protesting students, says there are a lot of discrepancies in funding for students. "While single students with no dependants receive a $532 allowance, someone who might have four children and six mouths to feed only received just over $1,100. Where is the fairness in that." says Tootoosis.

Tootoosis also says that educational financial restraints are an erosion of treaty and aboriginal rights to education which has a negative impact on the present generation and generations to come. He says it is the federal government's responsibility to deliver adequate assistance for students to achieve success in their chosen fields.

The Student Council says that education is the very foundation for the resurgence of Indian people and the tool to assert their distinct way of life. Since the 1970's, funding for Indian University students has come from the

(Right) Indian Leaders supported the students at a press conference.
(L-R): Vern Bellegarde, Chief PTNA;
Wayne Ahenakew, Vice-Chief-FSIN;
Student Leader, Tyrone Tootoosis and Danny Gaudry
Demonstrations at Federal Building, Saskatoon

Indian Students Protest Capped Educational Funding

Ivan Morin

program Circular E-12. "The development of Program Circular E-12 spells out the policy and guidelines governing INAC's financial assistance to Inuit and registered Canadian Indian post-secondary students - the Post-Secondary Education Assistance Program (PSEAP). Under these guidelines, post-secondary students receive funding from INAC for tuition and registration fees, books and supplies, special shelter allowances, counselling services, living allowances, transportation and graduate student incentives. Additional allowances are also provided for dependants living with the student."

"The Minister also announced interim changes to guide the program until final revisions could be designed and implemented. These changes include: the requirement to manage the program within a fixed annual budget; a system of priorities for selecting students; Canadian residency requirements; and the removal of half-salary allowances for graduate students." A press release from the students says that the E-12 program had been one of the most successful Indian programs in existence and to limit enrolment for Indian people and discourage some students and perpetuate problems for Indian people. "We can't allow this to happen. There are a lot of students out there who think that even if you do apply for funding from Indian Affairs under the E-12 program, you will be refused. This is not a good situation for students to be in." says Tootoosis.

The students received support from a number of groups, notably from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance. Wayne Ahenakew, second Vice-Chief of the FSIN, attended the press conference to express the support of the FSIN for the students and their concerns.

A letter of support from FSIN chief, Roland Crowe, encourages the students, telling them that their fight is important and admirable. Chief Crowe, in his letter to the students, says that the fight for treaty rights is not an easy one and that they cannot give up. "We must continue to fight to achieve our entitlements under the treaties ... it must be emphasized that we never gave up over the past years; that is why we have certain guarantees for Indian post-secondary education; that is why we have the only three Indian education institutions in Canada (SIFC, SIIT, and SICC).

In a recently released position paper, the FSIN states that Indian Education is the dearest right that Indian people have. It says that to diminish the education right suggests that the government of Canada fails to realize the risks involved and exercises poor judgement. "Canada faces the option of investing resources of Indian education now or continuing to pay the penalty for its shortsightedness in years to come. Canada's expense will be in costs associated with welfare, prisons, fostercare, and other symptoms of social disorder", says the paper.

According to the ISC's press release, "it is painfully obvious that when Indians start to achieve success in their chosen field of study, they are restricted at the political whim of the government. Indians are grossly under-represented in Canadian universities with less than two percent representation. The drop out rate of Indian students in grades seven through twelve is ninety percent."

The release outlines seven concerns:

(1) Indian students in Saskatchewan are being denied their treaty right to education; (2) Adequate monthly allowances are a treaty right, existing rates are too low; (3) Capped funding only discourages students from attending; (4)Removal of priority list - all students accepted by a post-secondary institution should be funded; (5) We are opposed to the proposed E-12 policy changes; (6) INAC should consult Indian people before changes in policy; and, (7) If anything, more money should be allocated to the E-12 policy to enhance and encourage students to attend ... not cutback.

Tootoosis says the students will continue to express these concerns until proper funding is in place for all those entitled to it. The FSIN has commissioned the Touchwood File Hill's Qu'Appelle District Chiefs to study the proposed changes to the E-12 policy.