[Continued from Part I]
Others, it seems, would simply have us not report the problems with the PSSSP. Professor Gabrielle Slowey’s letter to the editor in Thursday’s Globe and Mail, for example, claims there needs to be “less hype about misspending” under the PSSSP. We could not disagree more that our report constitutes “hype” about anything. Documenting the lack of accountability built into the current system is critical to making sure students receive the funding to which they are entitled. Simply sweeping such problems under the rug in the name of “self-government” only ends up hurting individual Aboriginal students.
More promising, though still unsatisfactory, was the response of AFN Grand Chief Shawn Atleo on The Current. Atleo acknowledged the problems unearthed by the INAC Audits and agreed that the PSSSP has “many, many flaws.” He also agreed on the need to avoid the potential for abuses of power that have clearly occurred under the PSSSP. Yet he did not endorse our proposal, saying that decisions need to be made “collectively together.” We agree, and our statement of support – and overwhelmingly positive response we have received from former and current Aboriginal students – shows that many members of the grassroots Aboriginal population believe our proposal is superior to the status quo. This is because our proposal deals with the current system’s problems by providing a more efficient use of funds, ensuring that money goes to students rather than to administration. By funding every Registered Indian student, the APSSA will put the grassroots in charge of their own destiny in such a way as to promote self-responsibility and accountability. Aboriginal students, elders, and even chiefs support our proposal because they believe transferring control of education to students is the greatest source of empowerment and “Indian control of Indian Education.”
Last month, Atleo penned an important column in the Globe and Mail, in which he stressed three “key ingredients” for First Nations education funding: stable and secure funding; building education systems that include support for First Nations languages and cultures; and linking and broadening support among all educational institutions, particularly universities and colleges. Our proposal to create Aboriginal Post-secondary Savings Accounts incorporates all three ingredients. Under the APSSA, students would know ahead of time of the existence of funding, and they would be eligible to use the funding for any bona fide post-secondary institution, including those that would enable them to pursue study of First Nations languages and cultures. We are pleased that we agree with the National Chief on the principle of the importance of Aboriginal education. We hope that on closer inspection, he sees that our proposal will achieve the goals he expressed in his previous article.
As one of us (Calvin Helin) remarked Monday, “education is too important to be politicized.” We are glad our proposal has facilitated debate and discussion of Aboriginal post-secondary education across the country, but no one – least of all Aboriginal students – will benefit from deliberately misleading the Canadian public with respect to the content of our proposal. We encourage others to take a careful reading of the proposals we have laid out, and to continue to discuss this critical policy area.
Dave Snow and Calvin Helin