The federal government’s Post Secondary Education (PSE) program has three parts –the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) which provides funding for student costs, the Indian Studies Support Program (ISSP) which funds accredited post-secondary programming for First Nations people and the University and College Entrance Preparation (UCEP) which provides financial assistance to help students to attain the academic level required for admittance to post-secondary education programs. From a First Nations perspective, lifelong learning, which includes programs for early childhood education, elementary and secondary schooling, post-secondary education, vocational training and adult learning, is an Inherent and Treaty right for all First Nations peoples. However, the federal government views the funding of PSE as a matter of policy as opposed to a legislative requirement.
On November 12, 2010, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was formally endorsed by Canada. Included within it are several provisions pertaining to education, providing a solid platform in support of First Nations’ right to education.
Article 14 states:
- Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
- Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination
- States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities to have access, when possible to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
Article 19 states:
- States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
The federal government’s endorsement of the Declaration confirms that Canada is willing to work with First Nations to achieve the standards set out in the document. However, since 2009, when an internal audit of the then Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) post-secondary education programming confirmed the existence of flaws in administration and accountability, the federal government has failed to include First Nations in designing a solution to the identified flaws.
At this point, the Education Coordination Unit continues to monitor possible changes to the PSE program and advocate for continued and increasing First Nation control in the area of post secondary education and funding. An Ontario First Nation Postsecondary Education Summit held in March of 2012 is being followed up with a comprehensive report and a political position paper that will be released early in 2013.
The Education Coordination Unit participated in the Post Secondary Education Gathering hosted by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) in March 2011. This event saw the release of the Aboriginal Post Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework (APSET) which represents MTCU’s renewed approach to increasing Indigenous learners’ participation and achievement in post secondary education and training settings. The report also serves to describe strategic directions, clarify relationships and introduce performance measures.
Additional work continues in concert with the Aboriginal Institutes Consortium (AIC) to gain accreditation for Indigenous post-secondary institutes in Ontario. This has entailed ongoing engagement with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in an effort to have these institutions certificate, diploma and degree granting accredited institutions, directly funded, fully supported and sustainable.