On Wednesday March 17 Calvin Helin joined host Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC radio’s The Current to talk about Free to Learn. You can listen to the clip here. Below is the third part of the transcript from that interview, with Thomas Benjoe, student at the First Nations University of Canada:
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Thomas Benjoe has been listening in. He’s a fourth year student in business and indigenous studies at the First Nations University of Canada. He’s also the vice-president finance, of the student association at the university. He is in Regina. Hello.
THOMAS BENJOE (Student, First Nations University): Hello.
TREMONTI: Well, what do you think of the idea of bypassing band councils and putting money directly into accounts for each First Nations child?
BENJOE: Well, I guess the, the first problem that I have with this, this proposal is that the only incentive upon graduation is 25,000 dollars, which in fact for our time right now is not going to cover a lot of our tuition and the living costs that we have to deal with from year to year.
TREMONTI: What do you get right now? Do you get that much?
BENJOE: Typically we get our tuition and our books paid for.
TREMONTI: So, it’s not 25,000, is it?
BENJOE: For a year?
TREMONTI: Over the course, is it 25,000 over the course of, of an undergraduate degree at university or is it less?
BENJOE: I think that’s what they, this 25,000 dollars is what they were proposing is to, is over the course of four years for a degree.
TREMONTI: Right. And what I’m asking is what do First Nations students get now?
BENJOE: Typically we get our tuition covered, which is, for a full course load is about 6,000 dollars a year.
TREMONTI: Over how many years? Four?
BENJOE: Over four years.
TREMONTI: Okay. So that’s 24,000.
BENJOE: That’s 24,000 right there.
BENJOE: That’s not even including the, the living incentives or the living allowance or anything like that.
TREMONTI: So you are, are you opposed to the principle or the actual amount?
BENJOE: I’m, I’m opposed to both actually.
BENJOE: For me my, my post-secondary career has been, has been really successful dealing with my band and their post-secondary program that they have set up. I have a post-secondary counsellor that has helped me throughout my entire career here. And she went above and beyond what was expected of her to, to help with our, not only paying our tuition and getting those kinds of costs covered for us, but she’s helped us with scholarships and being a part of the community in many other ways because…
TREMONTI: What about those communities where they don’t go above and beyond though? Who helps them?
BENJOE: I can’t really speak too much about them. I don’t know their situation.
TREMONTI: No, I’m just asking, because you make the point that you’ve been helped. But is that common or are there people who fall through the cracks with the present system?
BENJOE: Well, any system has got to have, have their faults. But, you know, I do know, like, a lot of other students from, from many of the other bands that I, I take classes with and they, they tell me that their post-secondary program is, is, runs really well. And they haven’t had too much of these problems that I, that I’ve heard in this, in this report that was put out by…
TREMONTI: Well, so, is the problem really at the post-secondary level or is it at high school or the lower education level?
BENJOE: I think what the problem is is that as First Nations people we’re only maybe a first and second generation of families that are actually in post-secondary education. And for us to be behind the national average of how much people go to post-secondary, I mean there’s a big difference here. I mean, we, we only just started being able to come off the reserves in the sixties. I mean, we’re playing catch-up here and we are making progress. And that being said, the first and second generation families being able to access post-secondary or be able to go to university or anything like that, I mean, it’s a little, it’s something new to some families and it’s something that hasn’t been around for too long in some families as well. So, that support….
TREMONTI: So we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t necessarily consider this a failure at this point then is what you’re saying.
BENJOE: No. I think we just need to, there is some faults in the program and I think we do need to work those out.
TREMONTI: We are out of time Thomas Benjoe. But we’ll leave it there and we’ll give you the last word on that. Thank you for talking to me.
BENJOE: All right.
TREMONTI: That is Thomas Benjoe, vice-president of finance at the student association at the First Nations University of Canada. He spoke to us from Regina.