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Ottawa’S Assault On First Nations Education

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1989      p06  
The cutbacks in Indian Post-Secondary Education has caused a major national Indian protest that have taken the government by surprise.

A speaker at a student ralley in Saskatoon summed it up by saying, I'd like to thank Mr. Cadieux for waking Indians up."

After several years of relative calm the federal government had grown complacent and was openly implementing the devolution policy and making political statements such as "Post-Secondary Education is not a treaty right."

The following article is taken from an informative brochure prepared by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

Statements by the Minister of Indian Affairs and his bureaucrats are intended to create an impression in the media and public that's the federal government has been and continues to be more than generous and fair in the conduct of its Post-Secondary Student Assistance Program.

They also give the impression that budgetary allocations for Post-Secondary Education have increased significantly over the years (from $9 million in 1977-78 to $130 million in 1988-89).

And that the new policy is designed to improve incentives, provide encouragement, emphasize scholastic achievement, and accent those education sectors which have most relevance to community needs.

The positive sounding rhetoric emanating from Ottawa obscures many of the real facts and implications about the policy changes. It would not be unfair to suggest that Federal authorities have embarked on a deliberate policy of deception in order to defuse resistance against the policy changes that is increasing among Indian peoples.

Indeed one has to wonder whether the kind of federal S.W.A.T. team (Special Words and Tactics) which was designed by consultants for the Minister of Indian Affairs in May 1987 is not providing a model for "controlling the dialogue" with the public and the media on the education issue.

The changes that have been made to the post-secondary education policy were not prompted by any federal quest for efficiency, or improved results. On the contrary an examination of the evidence shows that the needs and aspirations of native students did not enter at all into Ottawa's policy exercise.

In April 1985, the Neilson Task Force on program review completed a 523 page report and recommendations on Indian and Native programs which were to be achieved by dropping services which were not a statutory requirement, and by transferring costs to provinces and bands. Native education was included in this review and earmarked for the same cost cutting exercise.

Neilson's recommendations were supposed to be approved in secret and indeed, were on their way to Cabinet for approval when they were leaked. The furor that resulted in reaction to Neilson's recommendations prompted the Prime Minister to downplay its importance as a report, and to assure the public and native people that the recommendations were not about to become a policy.

A impression was created that the report would be shelved. In fact, its recommendations were approved in Cabinet the following October, and have been shaping federal budgetary policies for Indian people since that time.

Similarly, the Prime Minister promised at a First Minister's Conference in April 1985 that his government would undertake a major initiative to ensure that legal substance and force would be given to past treaties as well as to treaties that remain to be negotiated with about half the native peoples of Canada who have not entered into such pacts.

Steps were taken to begin exploring the issue of aboriginal and treaty rights under the aegis of the Hon. David Crombie when he was Minister of Indian Affairs. The government however quickly killed this initiative because it was perceived to be in contradiction to Neilson's approach, which has become the operating policy.

'As matters now stand, Ottawa's position is that post-secondary education is neither a statutory right, nor is it an aboriginal or treaty right.' This position is in fact consistent with Neilson's interpretation of native rights as stated in his report.

Moreover, in line with the Neilson approach, (which is similar in substance to the termination policy outlined in the White Paper of 1969) the present federal government is working actively to dismantle its trust responsibilities, which have their source in the Royal Proclamation 1763 and the treaties.

About 400 students at the protest
About 400 students took part in a noon hour protest in Saskatoon.

The new education policy in fact represents a major step in doing away with the trust relationship. If it becomes possible to deny a post secondary education to some Indian people, a precedent is established for eventually cutting off federal funding for all students.

Ottawa's rationale, derived from the Neilson report, is that provinces receive substantial transfer payments for health, welfare and post-secondary education as block funding under the Established Programs Funding Act. Federal estimates are that provinces cover from 80% to 90% of the costs of post secondary education out of these federal transfers.

At the same time, the traditional and current position of provinces is that the federal government remains responsible for funding 100% of the costs for Indian post secondary education. Ottawa's position is that in carrying 100% of Indian education costs, it is engaged in a form of double-funding. This dispute between Ottawa and the provinces remains unresolved.

In the interim, the federal government has acted unilaterally to restrict and cap its allocation for post-secondary education and, in effect, passed the buck to the provinces. In the meantime, it is Indian students who are being squeezed and deprived of education opportunities.

13 students chained themselves together
A group of 13 students chained themselves
together in the Saskatoon District Office
of Indian Affairs.
Students carried out and charges laid
The students were carried out and charges
were laid.

Federal assertions that budgetary allocation for post-secondary education have increased significantly are blatantly false.

Prior to the passage of Bill C-31 (during 1984-85), federal allocations for native post-secondary education totalled $49.4 million. This allocation served a population of aboriginal peoples (including Inuit) of around 377,000.

Following the passage of Bill C-31, approximately 110,000 native people sought reinstatement under the Indian Act, and to-date almost 50,000 have in fact been reinstated. A further backlog of around 45,000 are being processed (applications for the balance have been rejected). The present budget, reported to be around 130 million, therefore, is serving a total population (including Inuit) of around 427,000 plus a further possible population of over 40,000 once their applications are processed during the balance of this year.

Bill C-31 has resulted in a significant and rapid increase of native people who gain eligibility for federal programs and services. Much of the C-31 population come from urban backgrounds and it is estimated that 90% have indicated that they plan to send their children to university or college. Approximately 2,700 of the Indian students now attending university gained their eligibility as a result of C-31.

In 1984-85 Indian students were receiving an average of close to $9,000 per capita annually in post-secondary education. This included tuition and course fees, travel allowance, rent subsidy, book fees, allowance, day care, guidance and counselling, and other services.

The new policy has the effect of reducing per-capita costs for post-secondary education to around $8,000. If inflation is taken into account, the reduction is even more drastic. This difference in educational support is illustrated graphically in the case of Sharon Ironstar who was on a hunger strike. As a single parent, with four children, the effect of the new policy is to reduce educational support for her by $245 per month.

In 1984, PMA Consulting Group did a study for the Department of Indian Affairs, which was noted by the Neilson Task Force. The PMA Study indicated that the university participation rate of Indian students increased from 1 % to 12% over 20 years. The national average is about 20%. According to the consultants, a three-fold increase in spending levels is needed to increase Indian students enrolment and success to the national average.

In terms of 1984 dollars, the implication is that the budget allocation for post-secondary education should be about $197 million (factoring in the C-31 population since 1984).

The effect of the new policy therefore is to: "Cap appropriations for Indian post-secondary education and deny increasing numbers of Indian students educational opportunities. (So far this year, 240 university entrance students have been prevented from attending university)."

"The new policy will also reduce levels of assistance to individual students, making it difficult or impossible for many to continue their education."

"And it will establish criteria and controls on Indian career choices in order to create incen-

Ottawa’S Assault On First Nations Education

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1989      p07  
Chris Axworthy
NDP Member of Parliament and
Education Critic Chris Axworthy
Keith Goulet
Cumberland MLA and NDP
Native Critic Keith Goulet

tives" for Indian students to take courses favoured by federal bureaucrats. The purpose seems to be to create Indians in the image of federal bureaucrats who can take over many of the functions and values of the Department of Indian Affairs."

In adopting the new policy, Ottawa is attempting to achieve two purposes:

"First it will reduce federal costs by so structuring the policy that Indian students will be compelled to seek other sources of funding (namely the provinces)."

"And second it will dismantle the federal trust responsibilities for Indians as defined by the Guerin Decision and other court cases (this process leads to the termination of aboriginal and treaty rights and ultimately, to the extinction of an aboriginal identity)."

Federal authorities insist that the federal policy is "fair" in relation to the kind of assistance provided to the rest of the population in Canada. The fact is that the aboriginal population in this country cannot be measured in any equitable terms with other Canadians.

The majority of native people are young, mostly because the longevity of older generations has been affected by poor health services, bad housing, third rate educational services, discrimination, and poverty - all managed and maintained by an alien and distant federal bureaucracy.

50% of Indian people are under age 20 compared to 32% of the national population. The Indian population is increasing at twice the national average.

Only 20% of Indian people have completed high school - compared to 75% of other Canadians. 70% of the Indian population have less than a high school education compared to 45% in mainstream Canada.

38% of Indians have less than grade 8 - compared to 20% for others.

These figures show graphically that any increase in university attendance by Indian students should be viewed and supported as a light at what has been a long and dark tunnel. Ottawa's policy is designed to extinguish this light.

Unemployment rates in most Indian communities average around 55% and in some locales are as high as 90%. Indian incomes are less than two-thirds of the national average and are derived mostly from part-time work and various forms of supplementary assistance. (Social Assistance costs in 1986 exceeded $313 million.) The Neilson Task Force noted in its commentary that among the Indian students who attended university (whether they graduated or not) successful employment resulted in more than 90% of the cases, It therefore seems to be strange economic reasoning that would create barriers to post-secondary education and leave Indian people unemployed and dependent on social assistance.

Dependency in lieu of education brings with it other costs in addition to social assistance. Recent figures show that 70% of all admissions to federal penitentiaries in the western provinces (where the majority of aboriginal people live) are native. These figures also indicate that 70% of the total native population can expect to go to jail by age 25 -~compared to 8% of the general population. Other institutional costs are just as high. For example, hospital admissions are 2 1/2 times higher than the national average. A cap on education costs can only be translated in the end to much higher negative costs - there are no savings for the taxpayer.

Almost 50% of Indian children require special education according to provincial criteria because of the poor quality of elementary and secondary education financed by the federal government. This figure compares with 15% in the general population. Those Indian students who rise above these handicaps clearly need continued to support if they are to succeed.

'Capping and cutting-back on Indian post-secondary education clearly is a regressive and destructive measure that takes no account of the social and economic conditions in which people live.' Ottawa may be attempting to demonstrate that it is penny wise,' but time will quickly show that it is being pound foolish.

It has been long established practice and some would argue, a legal requirement, that Ottawa consults with Indian people before inaugurating any major changes in policy. Prime Minister Trudeau reaffirmed this policy following the debacle that accompanied his termination proposals in a "White Paper" in 1969. Mr. Mulroney has made similar promises in First Ministers conferences and on other occasions.

The emergence of a new education policy clearly shows that the present Prime Minister does not take his public pronouncements seriously. His government went through a charade that was represented as "consultation", purely for public relations purposes, with no intention of listening to Indian views.

The Assembly of First Nations received funding from the federal government beginning in 1984 to establish a "National Indian Education Forum" which would review educational policy and provide a means for transferring control of educational policy to Indian people. The AFN was supposed to survey Indian views, and develop a position which the government would take into account in formulating a new policy.

There is clear evidence that the government had no intention whatsoever of hearing what Indian people had to say about education policy and practices. Minutes of a secret meeting of politicians and bureaucrats dated January 19, 1988 were leaked in May of the same year. Under the heading "Post Secondary Institutions; there is a notation that suggests policy decisions were being taken without reference to the AFN consultation exercise or, to quote "...get decision by March, before AFN report on Indian education."

It was on March 20th, 1989 that the Minister released his announcement about the new post secondary policy. In taking this action, he reduced the so-called AFN/Departmental process to something less than a confidence game. The new policy which the government is so staunchly defending flies in the face of the recommendations that the National Indian Education Forum was bringing forth. Departmental officials are now explaining their pre-emptive action as "difficulties over communication." They are now proposing a consultation process to talk about a policy unilaterally imposed on Indian people by the government - to see if it can be improved in some respects. The tactic seems to be to offer the AFN another grant, keep them busy studying and consulting, and in the process, blunt any prospect of massive Indian protest.

The position of native people on education policy remains modest and reasonable.

Dutch Lerat
FSIN Vice-Chief, Dutch Lerat

Policy changes to Indian post-secondary education were developed in secrecy in Ottawa board-rooms without reference to the work done by the AFN or to the views of native students or native communities.

"A moratorium therefore should be declared on the policy changes to permit a proper consultation process to take place."

Any future consultation on post-secondary education should be so structured that the process involves the students who are most directly effected, as well as the predominantly youthful population of native communities.

It is also proposed that a bilateral consultative process, be attempted which will permit a genuinely joint review and formulation of a future education policy.

Cadieux has replied that they will have a mini-moratorium until the fall or the implementation of the new policy and consultation will take place in the meantime.

The Indian leadership have rejected this offer on the part of the Minister because, it lacks any detailed process and appears to have been offered as a stalling tactic.

FSIN Chief Dave Ahenakew
Former FSIN Chief Dave Ahenakew spoke in support of the students.

Maureen Ahenakew
Maureen Ahenakew argued on behalf of the students but to no avail.