Statement made on 15 February 2012 by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, on February 1, I attended the Canadian Federation of Students National Day of Action Rally, a student rally organized by the Indigenous Students Association at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan. Joined with other students at the University of Regina, First Nations University students, professors and student leaders demanded that the federal government remove the 2 per cent cap on Aboriginal post-secondary education and live up to the treaty right to education.
As honourable senators know, through the recent succession of studies on Aboriginal education, first by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and just last week by the national panel on education, a distinct and significant funding gap exists between First Nations students on-reserve and those in the provincial school system. This gap is institutionalized in policy when it comes to post-secondary education because of the 2 per cent cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program. This program supports First Nations students who attend post-secondary institutions.
According to the National Education Council and the Assembly of First Nations, from 2001 to 2006, an estimated 10,500 students did not have access to post-secondary education due to the lack of funding. They were flat out denied funding for their post-secondary studies because the amount of the Post-Secondary Student Support Program funds has been capped since 1996. In Saskatchewan alone, approximately 1,000 students were denied funding for the 2009-10 academic year. The number of students this program funds has steadily declined from 22,930 students in the 1997-98 academic year to only 18,729 students in the 2009-10 academic year.
The federal government, through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, has in effect put a cap on the future prosperity of First Nations youth and their ability to contribute to their communities.
Honourable senators know that education is a key component in helping to solve problems that beset First Nations communities in Canada. Furthermore, investment in the education of Aboriginal youth, the fastest growing demographic in Canada, would result in a positive impact on the Canadian economy as a whole.
Honourable senators, these students demanded that the 2 per cent cap on Post-Secondary Student Support Program funding for First Nations students be removed and have sent a letter to Minister Duncan outlining their demands.
I commend the students for their actions and support their demands for the removal of the 2 per cent cap on funding for the Post-Secondary Student Support program from the federal government. As Little Black Bear First Nation Chief Perry Bellegarde stated at the rally, "We're First Nations people being treated like second-class citizens, living in Third World conditions in the fourth-best country to live in in the world, and that is not acceptable in 2012."
Honourable senators, it is time for Canada to honour the treaty right to education.