The following news story, by Mary Ellen MacIntyre, appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on March 18, 2010.
More than a little controversy was stirred up with the release of a national think-tank’s report on aboriginal post-secondary school funding this week.
Claiming First Nations sometimes choose which students get access to funds based on nepotism and whether the student lives on or off reserve, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute’s report doesn’t pull punches.
Some people like that, but others think the report’s authors, Calvin Helin and Dave Snow, should keep their opinions to themselves.
“That’s certainly not the way it happens in our community,” said Don Gloade, director of education for the Mi’kmaq community in Indian Brook.
During a telephone interview Wednesday, Gloade said the report is way off base.
“We funded over 100 students for their post-secondary education in 2009, and that includes members who live off reserve,” he said.
Called Free to Learn: Giving Aboriginal Youth Control Over Their Post-Secondary Education, the report was released Monday in Ottawa.
It suggests there should be more transparency and accountability since the federal government invests $314 million annually in the countrywide program.
One way to ensure accountability and transparency would be to change the funding program, the report suggests.
Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the institute, said Wednesday that taking the funds away from bands and putting them into registered education savings plans for newborn children would mean every native student would have a fair chance.
None of the funding would pass through the native political system or band structure.
“In this way, money intended for education would go toward education,” said Crowley.
The report suggests many native communities divert funding from education and spend it in other areas.
“It comes down to this: if we didn’t already have the current system, we wouldn’t invent the current system,” said Crowley.
While he said many native people across the country have come out in support of the plan, Gloade said most aboriginal people would find the report nothing short of an insult.
“One of our concerns is the report paints us all with the same brush, and when you have a valuable and necessary program like this, we can’t have it jeopardized,” said Gloade.
“Some people might think band councils just want the money and control, but every native community knows the secret to success is to get our youth educated.”
One Indian Brook woman said in an interview that the idea of establishing RESP’s for newborn aboriginals was a great idea.
“It would take the control away from the local bands and that would be a good thing, and we all know bands will sometimes use education money for welfare or housing. It is just poor management,” said the woman, who requested anonymity.
Nonetheless, she said there still has to be funding for programs that assist students who have to travel for school or have to live outside their home communities.
Tom Benjoe is a student at First Nations University in Saskatchewan and vice-president of finance for the student association. He said Wednesday he can’t agree with much in the report.
“This report is short-sighted and fails to consider many factors important to aboriginal students,” he said.
More importantly, Benjoe said, the suggestions about nepotism and favouritism contained in the report are not proven.
“There is no one truth for every community, and I don’t think this report dug deep enough to make those kinds of statements.
“I wish these guys had done more research before publishing because there are key people who can talk to them about the importance of relationships in native communities.”
There has to be funding to ensure students who are trying to get an education have access to trained people who can help them, he said.