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Louie Villanueva

Liberals break promise on Indigenous post-secondary funding

By Fabian Mayer, March 29 2016 —

Despite running a $29.4-billion deficit, the Liberal government did not find the funds to expand financial assistance for indigenous post-secondary students. A two per cent cap on increases to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program — which provides financial support to First Nations and Inuit students — remains in place.

The Liberal election platform included a pledge to expand the program by $50 million in order to “allow the program to grow in line with increasing demand.”

The budget set aside $8.4 billion in funding over five years to help “improve socioeconomic conditions of indigenous peoples.” It also included a vague pledge to ensure supports are in place for indigenous students, but provided no details on how that would be accomplished.

University of Calgary Native Centre director Shawna Cunningham said she was generally pleased with the budget, but believes a financial commitment to aboriginal post-secondary students is still missing.

“We’re seeing an increased number of students seeking post-secondary access and for the students that are of treaty status, we haven’t seen an increase in sponsorship to support them,” Cunningham said.

According to Cunningham, around 81 per cent of First Nation status U of C students receive third-party funding.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about aboriginal students all having access to post-secondary sponsorship and that is not true at all,” Cunningham said.

Jacqueline Ottman is the director of Indigenous education initiatives at the U of C. She is also disappointed that the cap was left in place.

“I was surprised that particular need was not met,” Ottman said. “A lot of First Nation students do experience financial difficulty when they attend post-secondary institutions across Canada.”

According to U of C Students’ Union president Levi Nilson, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) has lobbied for an expansion of the program for years.

“Not only is the funding not available in the right amounts, but the population growth for indigenous peoples is much higher than two per cent,” Nilson said.

Nilson claims the reception to the request was positive when student leaders lobbied Parliament at the end of February.

“A lot of people said they understand our concerns with it and that it was a platform point and they hoped to follow through,” Nilson said.

He said CASA will keep expanded financial assistance for indigenous students as one of its lobbying priorities.

“Since it was so specifically stated that the Liberals were going to follow through on it we hope to keep them accountable to that.”

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