First Nations view post secondary education and training as an integral component of lifelong learning. The concept of lifelong learning is captured in several policy documents adopted by the Chiefs in Canada such as:
- Tradition and Education: Towards a Vision of Our Future – 1988 which recommends local jurisdiction over education; making language and culture central in education; the incorporation of First Nation values and ethics; supporting parental and community involvement; and lifelong learning;
- Taking Action for First Nations Post-Secondary Education: Access, Opportunity, and Outcomes Discussion Paper – 2010 which outlines our visions as First Nations view education as a process of nurturing learners in linguistically and culturally-appropriate, holistic learning environments that meet individual and collective needs, thereby ensuring that all First Nations people achieve their personal and collective visions within lifelong comprehensive learning systems.
The Our Children, Our Future, Our Vision: First Nation Jurisdiction over First Nation Education – 2012 document produced by COO recommends that “Canada must take real action on the recommendations of previous studies and honour Treaty, legal, and constitutional obligations to work with First Nations to address the funding barriers identified and ensure the education funding provided supports the holistic, lifelong learning needs of all levels First Nations education in Ontario.”
The federal government’s Post Secondary Education (PSE) program has three parts –the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) which provides funding for student costs, the Indian Studies Support Program (ISSP) which funds accredited post-secondary programming for First Nations people and the University and College Entrance Preparation (UCEP) which provides financial assistance to help students to attain the academic level required for admittance to post-secondary education programs.
An internal audit in 2009 of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) post-secondary education programming confirmed the existence of flaws in administration and accountability of the PSE. The federal government has since failed to include First Nations in designing a solution to the identified flaws.
Currently hundreds of First Nation students are denied access to post secondary education and training on a yearly basis due to the inadequacy of funds provided by the federal Post Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP).
The federal government also provides some funding to Indigenous Institutes of Higher Learning, of which there are nine in Ontario, through the Post Secondary Partnerships Program (formerly the Indian Studies Support Program). Recent changes to the Program compromise the capacity of our Indigenous Institutes of Higher Learning in Ontario.
At this point, the Education Coordination Unit continues to monitor possible changes to the PSE program and advocate for continued and increasing First Nation control in the area of post secondary education and funding.
On the provincial level the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities continues to support First Nations’ post secondary and training efforts through their Aboriginal Post Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework (APSET). The ECU currently participates in the MTCU External Working Group which is in the process of producing a progress report and implementation plan to the Policy Framework.
The ECU continues to support the Aboriginal Institutes Consortium (AIC) in their quest to gain accreditation for Indigenous post-secondary institutes in Ontario. This initiative is outlined in their Roadmap to Recognition document.