With its close proximity to the Six Nations of Grand River, Canada’s largest population of First Nations, and an independent ISP with a sizeable number of First Nations students, McMaster should be considered an accessible campus for Aboriginal students.
But is our student population aware of the issues that Aboriginal students experience in accessing their education?
At the Feb. 6 SRA meeting, Huzaifa Saeed, MSU VP (Education), introduced a new position paper that the MSU has drafted on Aboriginal Students. The paper proposed a set of 12 recommendations that primarily urged the provincial and federal governments to increase their funding allocation and remove the barriers to education that indigenous students face.
Saeed prepared the position paper in consultation with the Indigenous Studies Program and using data from focus groups held through OUSA, the MSU’s provincial lobbying body.
“In the MSU, there is a tendency to forget about groups within the larger student body. And according to OUSA and CASA, certain underrepresented groups, such as Aboriginal Students, need to have their issues better addressed.”
In light of the recent Idle No More rallies, Saeed felt that the educational challenges facing indigenous students have been relatively underrepresented in the mainstream media.
The paper also emphasized how, historically, educational institutions have not acknowledged the legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge and systemically discriminated and alienated Aboriginal students. Another recommendation proposed providing more resources to Aboriginal student services to help to improve student transition and experience.
The paper outlines how federal funding, through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, has been capped at an annual two per cent increase since 1996.
Jennie Anderson, Aboriginal Recruitment and Retention Officer at McMaster, described how the federal cap on funding presented a problem for Aboriginal students because it does not accurately reflect the growing Aboriginal youth population, and it is not set to inflation.
Federal funding is distributed to Aboriginal students from their band councils in their respective communities. However, because the funding comes from a set amount, Aboriginal students will experience increasing difficulty accessing funds for post-secondary studies.
“Communities face tough decisions in priority sequencing. While we already work with students to find alternate means of funding, this will only increase [as funds continue to dwindle relative to the population],” said Anderson.
Brandon Meawasige, a third-year Communications and Indigenous Studies student of Ojibway, heritage explained how in his first year he studied at Laurier Brantford, he struggled to complete all the necessary paperwork because the university process was overly complex.
“At Mac, I filled out one form, sent it in and it was processed right away by Student Accounts and Cashiers. I didn’t need to qualify how I was Aboriginal or have a back-and-forth conversation with my band council to prove my status, like I had to at Laurier.”
The Indigenous Studies Program is currently housed in the basement of Hamilton Hall, but unlike other programs, its student services is just another part of their program but does not have separate employees or independent funding.
The program will soon be receiving an enhanced office space in the new Wilson Building, and program staff have been enthusiastic to promote the introduction of a full four-year Bachelors in Indigenous Studies.
Tara Campbell, Program Administrator, remarked upon the positive impact of the new MSU position paper.
“It was the first time in a few years that we were approached by the MSU, and I was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge [of Indigenous issues] that came up. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, and we hope for more allies like the MSU so it isn’t always just us knocking on doors.”
Saeed also re-iterated the importance of strengthening the relationship between the MSU and Aboriginal students and creating more awareness among the student body of educational disparities.
“The MSU should have a repository on all significant PSE issues to build for future years to detail our stance. I hope my successor will vote for CASA to continue lobbying on behalf of Aboriginal issues.”