First Nations Women and Education
BY LINDA MCDONALD
The recent changes made by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND) to post-secondary education funding guidelines have embittered First Nations people and resulted in protests across the country. The controversy has left the Canadian public confused and unsure what to think about the issue. With media reports of large sums of money given "gratis" for a seemingly indeterminate number of years for native post-secondary education, many Canadians have reacted angrily and denounced the policy as unfair.
But what is fair? What is equality when it comes to education? These questions cannot be answered by comparing the lives of First Nations people to the rest of Canada because the differences are immeasurable. To begin to understand the issue we must look beyond the media reports and carefully worded government responses, to the historical facts and the reality of what it means to be an aboriginal person in today's Canada.
Education is an inherent right of First Nations people based on treaty and aboriginal rights and cannot be denied or used as a basis for negotiations. The treaties are an agreement to exchange services and programs for access to land and resources. Education is part of the exchange and cannot be separated from other treaty rights. To do so allows the government to diminish its treaty responsibilities in a piece- meal fashion and perhaps eventually eliminate them altogether.
It was wrong for the government to unilaterally make changes to Post-Secondary Education Assistance and to cap funding to the program. In spite of condemnations and strong opposition, the government states it carried out a "fair" consultation when in fact dialogue occurred only after the fifth draft of its policy, which took three years to produce. The 300 documents received by DIAND and claimed by them to exemplify consultation included many denouncements of the process. Aboriginal people have become wary of so- called "consultation" because to participate seems to indicate acceptance, and no response is read as complacency.