Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

First Nations Post-Secondary Education in Canada

Posted by strattof on October 5, 2008

First Nations Post-Secondary Education in Canada:

Treaty Rights and Broken Promises


Many Canadians believe that the federal government funds all First Nations post-secondary education. The facts reveal a far different reality. Here are some of those facts:


  • Education at all levels is a First Nations treaty right.


  • All Canadians benefit from the treaties signed between First Nations and the Canadian government. Regina, for example, is situated on land ceded under Treaty 4 in 1874. Under Treaty 4, the Cree and Salteaux First Nations relinquished most of current day southern Saskatchewan. In return, they received small parcels of land and other benefits, including medical care and education.


  • While First Nations have kept their side of the treaty agreements, the Canadian government has frequently broken the promises it made to First Nations peoples.


  • In Treaty 4, for example, the Canadian government pledged to build and maintain a school on each reserve. Instead of keeping this promise, the government began, in the 1880s, to remove children from their families and communities to Indian residential schools. As Prime Minister Harper said in his recent apology to former students of Indian residential schools, “the objectives of the residential schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.”


  • Assimilation was also the goal of the enfranchisement clause in the Indian Act. Under the clause, any First Nations person obtaining a university degree was automatically enfranchised–that is stripped of their Indian status and treaty rights. First introduced in 1880, the clause remained in effect until 1960, the year First Nations received the right to vote federally without having to give up their Indian status.  


  • In 1987, the federal government began to cap First Nations higher education funding. The cap coincided with a growing demand by First Nations students for post-secondary education and rising rates of tuition.


  • Since 1996, a 2% growth cap has been in place on funding for First Nations post-secondary education. Since 1996, the number of First Nations in post-secondary education has fallen by 9%. This is despite growing demographics.


  • Number of eligible First Nations students denied education grants due to the 2% cap:

2,100               in Saskatchewan in the last 3 years

2,858               across Canada in 2007-2008

13,447             across Canada since 2001


  • The education provided at Indian residential schools was intended to assimilate First Nations into the lower strata of Canadian society. The 2% cap has the same economic effect. As the Assembly of First Nations puts it: “The federal government is… engaging in a modern form of oppression by disenfranchising so many young First Nations youth from their pursuit of post-secondary education and escape from lower class poverty.”


  • Percent of those between 15-24 who have a post-secondary education:

Non-Aboriginal Canadians: 40%

First Nations: 17%


Sources: Blair Stonechild, The New Buffalo; Assembly of First Nations websites; Canadian Federation of Students; Globe and Mail.


Make the cap on funding for First Nations post-secondary education an election issue:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, K1A 0A2; or

Hon. Stéphane Dion, House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6; or

Hon. Jack Layton, House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6; or



“Today, elders say that education, rather than the bison, needs to be relied upon for survival.”                                                                                        –Blair Stonechild, The New Buffalo



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