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National Group Outlines Post Secondary Concerns

Carole Sanderson

In October of 1987, the federal government hosted a national focus on Post-secondary education in Saskatoon. None of the Indian political organizations were invited or represented in spite of the fact that many were deeply involved and committed to post-secondary education.

The National Indian Education Symposium is a national body of educators who have a special interest in post secondary education. They met at the Enoch Reserve in Alberta in the summer of 1987 for the first time and in the summer of 1988 at the Kahnawake Reserve in Quebec.

Indian education is viewed by Indians as an inherent right that is the key to Indian resurgence and self-determination. This conviction was best expressed in the National Indian Brotherhood policy statement on Indian Control of Indian Education issued in 1972 and formally given official recognition as federal policy by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada on February 2, 1973.

Indian education is the dearest right of all the rights our people have retained and protected. It is evident that government policy adjustments and neglect are not sensitive to the powder-keg of emotion associated with this right. To diminish the education right suggests the government of Canada fails to realize the risks involved. Let alone the obvious poor judgement in terms of investment.

Canada faces the option of investing resources in Indian education now or continuing to pay the penalty for its short-sightedness in years to come. Canada's expense will be in costs associated with welfare, prisons, foster care and other symptoms of social disorder. Indian expense will continue to be in terms of quality of life and lost potential.

In August of 1987, the Alexander Tribal Goverment hosted a national Indian Education Symposium to discuss Indian education and the implementation of government policies. A year later another symposium was held at Kahnawake near Montreal, Quebec.

The gathering at Alexander coalesced around a call to strike a national body. This national body is comprised of Indian professionals and others concerned about education who wish to draw attention to the abrogation of these rights. We are concerned that our people have taken comfort in the prime minister's assurances that the Neilson Report is not policy and will not be implemented. The report describes a schedule to dismantle Indian rights. Furthermore, the prime minister strengthened his commitments at the conclusion of the last First Minister's Conference on Self Government where he promised Indians and in fact, the Canadian public that he would increase his efforts to enhance Indian self determination.

We face this contradiction of assurance versus actuality. If it persists, the current crises will escalate.

The Treaty and Status Indians of Canada wish that the national forum on post secondary education will bring focus to the need to develop new strategies in post secondary education. Canada has clearly been successful in developing a world class education system. However, as this forum is highlighting, adaptation to rapidly developing realities and consequent needs is lagging.

Education remains a high priority for Canada's citizens as the recent election in Ontario reaffirms. The electorate in Ontario voted for improved arrangements for primary education clearly depicting conviction to provide their citizens with every advantage for the twenty first century.

Strange as it may seem, Canada is faced with the peril of its own success. Efforts to increase access and achievement in education were digestible for government when we were moving from a circumstance where post secondary opportunities were elitist to one where most Canadians can participate. In more recent times, student loan programs, diverse post-secondary program offerings, decentralized facility arrangements and commitment to encourage retention of students with student counselling services, post-secondary entrance programs and arguably less rigid standards have all seemed to make higher education more accessible. Unemployment and changing employment have also played a role in encouraging retention. At the same time, the relevance of programs seems remote relative to perceived needs in a changing economic environment.

The challenge for Canada is adaptation and the challenge is immense. But these are the challenges facing Canadian society in its dominant sectors.

The Indian people of Canada are somewhat cynical about the convictions expressed by sponsors of this forum. A commitment of national resources is necessary for education to resume its rightful role as a significant agent of change. However, it is evident that the federal government has distorted deliberations with preconceptions of limited resources.

We can't help but feel the forum is window dressing, sort of an education counterpart to reaganomics. The forum has the impossible task of achieving significant adjustment to improve education and to undertake this laudable objective with the anticipation of less money. Efficiency and realignment are noble goals but ludicrous when coupled with aspirations of lower or non-increasing investment.

National Group Outlines Post Secondary Concerns

Carole Sanderson

Our cynicism is well earned. Canada's Indians are not party to the same aspirations. We don't enjoy the luxury of concern for the twenty first century. Only in the last decade have more than one percent of our students succeeded in post secondary education. In the last five years, the numbers have increased in percentage terms, but a 100 percent improvement still means that only two percent of our children succeed.

We don't have the luxury of aspiring to get ahead. We are still trying to catch up. Yet just as we are starting to gain momentum, the federal government has pulled the rug out from under us by limiting our children's access to post secondary opportunities.

Many of Canada's Indians entered into arrangements with Canada's monarchy and government to co-exist with non-Indians to the advantage of both parties. Non-Indians gained beneficial use of most of our land in return for guarantees to the Indians. These guarantees under treaties included the right to an education. Indian education is not free education. It has been paid for with our land. Treaties are not outdated documents. Several have been signed in this half century.

Canada's Indians have made tremendous headway in establishing Indian institutions of higher learning particularly in that their creation has been without benefit of relatively stable funding as was enjoyed by non-Indian establishments. The Saskatchewan Indian Federated College is an example of a creation that has survived. However, this college serves only 700 Indians at present and it is the only university level Indian institution in North America. Canada has a native population of approximately one million. Continued relegation of this number of people to roles of reliance is unjust, wasteful and inhumane.

The federal government has decided that Indian education is too expensive and has moved to diminish federal responsibility. The consequence is that Indians must line up to qualify and this has resulted in a denial of access to 37 percent of this year's aspirants. This problem will increase in severity as more of our students graduate from secondary schools. Within three years, half of our high school graduates will be denied immediate access in spite of qualifications that meet entrance standards.

National Group Outlines Post Secondary Concerns

While money is described as a subject not to be discussed at this national forum, one must question the legitimacy of deliberations when respective governments preach motherhood and practice distortion. Conversion of national resources earmarked to pay for one submarine for the military to education could build ten or more post-secondary institutions of grand scale.

Clearly governments persist in this game of denying that education is political. Consider the fact that this conference has been arranged to exclude Indian governments and organizations. Only individuals are invited to participate yet the federal government certainly isn't participating as an individual.

The Federal and provincial governments must be challenged to elevate the stature of education so that it offers quality of life improvement for all Canadians. Burning the candle of our future at both ends with escalating expectations and diminishing commitment of resources is a formula for regression.

Examine Canada's fairness to its first nations would provide credibility to the conclusions of this forum. This would affirm our Indian view that Canadians are fair minded and just. We wish to resume our rightful place as significant contributors to Canada's economic well being.

We ask that delegates speak out to recommend that Indians not continue as casualties in the politics of education. We ask that delegates emphasize that conclusions of this forum will be visionary.

If it will take a "cadillac" to transport us into twenty first century educational relevance, imposition of "volkswagon" thinking can hardly help us reach the goal. The vision must be set. The expense then becomes an issue of national priorities.