Empowering Aboriginal Students to Educate Themselves:
New Ottawa think tank proposes major policy overhaul
(Le français suit)
Ottawa, March 15, 2010 — The Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a unique new Ottawa think tank, today issued a study, Free to Learn, calling on the federal government to reform its funding of post secondary education for First Nations students. The authors’ key proposal is to create an Aboriginal Post Secondary Savings Accounts that would be opened at birth for every registered Indian. This policy of empowering aboriginal students to educate themselves would replace the government’s Post-Secondary Student Support Program, which gives $314-million annually to Indian band councils who distribute it as they see fit, with little accountability.
The proposal to revamp federal aid for aboriginal higher education is written by Calvin Helin, the prominent aboriginal author, lawyer and entrepreneur, and Dave Snow, a University of Calgary doctoral candidate. It has been endorsed by a dozen aboriginal leaders, educators and others, including Don Barraclough, Caroline Krause, Patrick Brazeau, Glenn Hudson and Gayle Bedard.
In releasing Free to Learn, Brian Lee Crowley, Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said: “Aboriginal policy in Canada is a shameful mess. It is expensive, unaccountable and too often fails those it’s meant to help. Existing federal aid to aboriginal post-secondary education works badly, even though it is in a realm that’s critical to the success of individual First Nations students and important to the Canadian economy. It is way past time to do better – and Calvin Helin and Dave Snow have shown us the way today.”
Helin and Snow note that the federal Post-Secondary Student Support Program, or PSSSP, costs nearly a third of a billion dollars, but Indian and Northern Affairs Canada gives the money directly to Indian bands whose leaders distribute it without accountability. Their transparent, principled alternative to the failed PSSSP, federal Aboriginal Post-Secondary Savings Accounts, opened at birth for every Registered Indian, would be topped up as the recipient progresses through high school, then paid directly to any accredited college, university or trade school where they enroll.
APSSA’s would avoid fraud and favouritism, encourage institutions of higher learning to compete for aboriginal students, and give every Registered Indian confidence that success at school will open doors to a brighter future.
“Helin and Snow’s proposal is good for all Canadians,” Crowley said. “I’m proud to release it as our Institute’s first paper because it means hope for Aboriginals. It means more educated young workers in our aging workforce. Above all, it means undoing a long legacy of failed policy that costs taxpayers a fortune and leaves Aboriginals mired in poverty and hopelessness. It’s about decency and justice, about respecting the rights of individual aboriginals and giving them a fair chance.”
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank based in Ottawa that is concerned with the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Free to Learn may be downloaded free from the Institute’s website www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.