May 27, 2009

CFS focuses on Aboriginal students

Special for the June 1st issue of People's Voice

Funding for aboriginal post-secondary education will be a top priority of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) together with campaigns to combat skyrocketing tuition fees in the upcoming 2009-2010 semester, the CFS has recently announced after a membership meeting in Ottawa.

Almost three hundred delegates attended the 55th CFS Semi-Annual General meeting during mid-May, which also addressed student debt and corporate influence on campuses especially at the governing board level, including how to increase student representation on governing boards.

There have been a number of provincial mobilizations of the Federation this past year, Katherine Giroux-Bougard, National Chairperson of the CFS, told the Peoples Voice, pointing to student actions like the occupation of the Manitoba Legislature and mass mobilizations across Ontario. The CFS, Giroux-Bougard said, is focusing around the upcoming Federal election as a forum to advance student’s issues.

“[Our] discussions around the last federal budget have shown how it was a missed opportunity to invest in public education,” Giroux-Bougard said, noting that the current US administration has provided greater funding towards research and accessibility than Mr. Harper’s Conservative government. A special guest to the meeting came from the United States Student Association.

Giroux-Bougard added that the Federal budget also short-changed students by providing no new funding to the Canada summer jobs programme.

“Overall, students live the burden of student debt every day, and understand well the detrimental impacts of reduced access to education,” Giroux-Bougard told PV. Through meetings like these, CFS membership votes on all motions, and develops strategy as well, she said. “I think that there is a lot of interest by members in carrying out an action plan engaged on the ground.”

Although there have been some positive developments on the provincial level such as Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario is rapidly moving to become the province in the with the highest tuition fees in the country.

National Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations also addressed the meeting, highlighting the inadequate federal government role in aboriginal education. Since 1996 there has been a two per cent funding cap on many social programmes for Aboriginal peoples, including post-secondary support. This is despite persistent inflation and the biggest demographic boom in Canada among Aboriginal youth in the same time. Between 1996 and 2006 there has been a 47 per cent increase in the Aboriginal population.

According to the Assembly of First Nations, almost 2,600 eligible Aboriginal students were denied access to education funding last school year. Statistics Canada reports that 43 per cent of Aboriginal peoples have not obtained a high school diploma, while only 5 per cent have a university degree. (In the non-Aboriginal population the figure is 15 per cent for both, respectively).

The CFS has also prepared fact-sheets on the issue which note that while access to education is a right of all people, it is also a Treaty right recognized in the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982. The legacy of colonial education of Aboriginal peoples, however, includes residential schools and successive failed or inadequate government programmes including the current Post Secondary Student Support Programme.

Aboriginal peoples not only need more funding, one CFS fact-sheet says, noting that “the rights of aboriginal peoples to self-governance extend to control over the education process.” They call for Aboriginal-led institutions that enable Aboriginal instructors, students and elders to develop circular reflecting the needs of communities and empowering students.

“The number of aboriginal students with the grades to continue post-secondary education in no way matches the funding,” Giroux-Bougard said, adding that the National Aboriginal caucus is very active on the issue and that the CFS plans to make raise this item much more in their general campaign strategy.

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