National Post

Ontario is moving toward allowing Indigenous post-secondary institutes to independently grant students degrees and diplomas.

The province’s nine Indigenous governed and operated post-secondary institutions currently offer programs in partnership with colleges and universities, but legislation would allow for the creation of an Indigenous council, which would approve Indigenous institutes to award degrees, certificates and diplomas.

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day did half of his post-secondary education at a mainstream school and the other half with the First Nations Technical Institute. He said he would not have become chief if not for his education at the Indigenous institute.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this legislation will serve as a springboard for our already successful First Nation post-secondary institutions to flourish and grow and continue to design and provide programs and services that reflect First Nations’ ways of knowing and ways of being,” he said Thursday.

“Our learners are hungry to learn in environments grounded in their languages, cultures and values. This empowers them to pursue their hopes and dreams of being meaningfully employed and strengthening their own well-being and wellness of their families, their communities and nations.”

A legislative change that would allow for the first step in that process was contained in the Liberal government’s fall economic update bill, but the advanced education and Indigenous relations ministers highlighted it in an announcement Thursday.

“These vitally important centres of learning provide students with the opportunity to start their post-secondary education in an environment that is close to home, that is focused on student and community well-being and reflects Indigenous identity and culture,” said Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews.

“This is an important step — a step on the path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

The government is putting $56 million over three years toward expanding the capacity of Indigenous institutes.

Rosie Mosquito, who is the chair of the industry association for those institutes, said the changes will empower more Indigenous students to learn in culturally and linguistically responsive First Nation environments.

Chief Ava Hill of the Six Nations of the Grand River said she wishes Indigenous institutions were around when she was young.

“I didn’t have that opportunity because my parents couldn’t afford to send me away from home, but now that we have these institutions within our community it is so important because those kids can afford to go and if they’re mature students with families they can look after their families,” she said.

Former premier Bob Rae, who advises the Aboriginal Institute Consortium and co-chaired a policy table that led to this announcement, said the tradition of education within First Nations goes back a long time.“It’s a tradition of passing on first of all knowledge, facts, information, but is also a tradition of passing on wisdom and learning and understanding,” he said. “Indigenous institutes have so much to offer to students and what we’re doing now is just tapping the surface of the potential that’s there.”