APTN National News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged during his campaign an extra $50 million each year for the country’s Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) which provides financial assistance to First Nations and Inuit college and university students.
But Tuesday’s federal budget had no commitments to lift the two per cent funding cap on the program.
Bilan Arte, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said members of her group are disappointed that the Liberals promised Indigenous post-secondary students additional funding, then failed to provide it.
“We’re very taken aback and very disappointed,” she said.
The Canadian Federation of Students represents more than 650,000 students nationally.
“I think this government really had an opportunity to distinguish itself from previous governments with post-secondary education for indigenous students and it failed to do that with this budget.”
Coty Zachariah, an Indigenous student at Trent University, said he has been personally denied funding twice from the PSSSP and has had to take on a student loan.
“It’s chronically underfunded every year, so many students get denied,” said Zachariah, who also works with the Canadian Federation of Students. “Now we have to take on debt to go. I didn’t want to not go because I couldn’t afford it. It’s pretty frustrating as a student.”
Anna McKenzie, a recent graduate from the University of British Columbia who works with youth in care, said her education has impacted not only her, but her entire family.
She said she voted for the Liberal party and is disappointed that they didn’t follow through on their promise to increase funds for Indigenous post-secondary students.
“Post-secondary has created a ripple effect in my community,” she said in an email to APTN National News. “With the fastest growing population in Canada, our government has a responsibility to support Indigenous youth and adults who aspire to attend post-secondary. This is an enormous setback and disappointment for a government who has promised to forge a new nation-to-nation relationship.”
Arte said funding for post-secondary students is a treaty right.
She also pointed out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report, which included a demand for the federal government to provide adequate funding for First Nations students seeking post-secondary education.
During his campaign, Trudeau also promised to take immediate action on all of the TRC’s 94 recommendations.
Arte said there is not a shortage of qualified Indigenous students, but it’s a lack of funding keeping them out of post-secondary institutions.
“Supporting post-secondary Indigenous learners is not only economically smart for Canada, but morally required as part of our commitment to truth and reconciliation,” she said in a separate statement.
“The federal government can still right this wrong, opening access to post-secondary education for tens of thousands of Indigenous students at a small cost.”