The government's position is that post-secondary education is neither a statutory right nor an aboriginal or treaty right and therefore costs for native education should come out of the transfer payments each province receives from the federal government for education. The provinces, meanwhile, insist that since native issues are under federal jurisdiction, 100% funding is the responsibility of the federal government.
The spending of huge sums of money for post-secondary education reported in the media leads Canadians to believe that all those dollars go directly to the student. This is not so. A significant portion of the money is allocated to Indian Institutions such as Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, and to programs such as the University College Entrance Program. Additionally, counsellors and administrators are funded from these dollars.
By capping funding, the government will effectively decrease universal access to education. The move is a double insult to aboriginal women. It was largely women who fought for changes to the Indian Act which resulted in Bill C-31 (1985). This Bill, which is well known to First Nations people, eliminated sections of the Indian Act which were sexist, racist and fundamentally discriminatory.
The victims of this discrimination were, for the most part, women and children. But while the amendments have allowed some aboriginal people to gain access to programs previously denied them, their access is again in jeopardy as a result of the recent education funding policy changes. Equality in Education for First Nations women is a misnomer when so many women who recently have been recognized as aboriginal are now being discriminated against by a government policy that denies full and equal access to post-secondary education opportunities. Those in danger of losing an opportunity recently afforded them see the government giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
Following introduction of Bill C-31, questions were raised about how the government intends to accommodate the increased demands on the funds by the newly reinstated members. These questions remain unanswered. In some communities, the new members are viewed as an additional drain on decreasing resources and with the recent decision to cap funding, First Nations people find themselves once again in conflict with themselves as a result of government policy.
The new guidelines for the Post-Secondary Education Assistance Program call for decreases in some areas and increases in others. All students will notice the cut, some more than others. The greatest decrease has been for single parents with three or more dependents. Since the majority of single parents are women they are thus doubly disadvantaged. Childcare costs are not included in the new policy which effectively sets up another hurdle to prevent women with children from getting a post-secondary education.