At a campaign stop in Saskatoon on August 13, 2015, Justin Trudeau was asked by a reporter from APTN whether he regarded access to post-secondary education as a treaty right of Indigenous Peoples. His reply: “I regard it as a fundamental human right, but also a treaty right. We recognize that First Nations have a full and complete right to education, that is in the original treaties that were all signed and we need to make sure we’re living up to that”?.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau had committed to investing $50 million annually in the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), which provides financial support to First Nations and Inuit college and university students.
Unfortunately, in their first real statement of priorities, Trudeau’s government failed to deliver on the PSSSP funding promise with the budget showing no new funding allocated to the program.
For the past twenty years, successive federal governments have maintained a restrictive two per cent funding cap on the PSSSP that has resulted in funding falling far behind growing demand for post-secondary education, rising tuition fees and increasing living costs. As a consequence, Indigenous communities administering the funds are forced to make impossible choices about which students in their communities receive support each year.
During a recent visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Carolyn Bennett told student representatives from the Dalhousie Students' Union that the government intends to use existing funding allocated to the Canada Student Grants Program to fund Indigenous post-secondary education. An internal INAC briefing memo on the matter says the same.
Not only is the funding for the Canada Student Grants program still inadequate for funding all Indigenous learners, but also by lumping Indigenous students into a program designed for non-Indigenous students, the Government of Canada has abandoned its unique obligation to Indigenous peoples. This move would maintain the government’s broken promise to Indigenous students and violate the nation-to-nation relationship avowed by Trudeau’s government time and time again.
But, it’s not too late. The budget is not set in stone, and there’s still plenty of time to mend this broken promise before school resumes in September. Otherwise, we can expect that thousands of Indigenous youth will continue to be denied access to college and university education this fall – a demographic that happens to be the fastest growing in Canada.
The student movement has launched a petition with MP Charlie Angus calling on the federal government to immediately mend this broken promise by investing $50 million in the PSSSP and fully fund post-secondary education for all Indigenous students.