“The key is education for Indigenous youths”

Indspire CEO says it’s time for Canadians to invest in the education of Indigenous youths.

Roberta Jamieson wants to make changes, and is more optimistic than ever that they’re on the right track.

Jamieson is president and CEO of Indspire, a national charity providing educational support and programming to First Nation, Inuit and Métis students across Canada.  Outside the federal government, Indspire is the largest funder of Indigenous education in Canada. In 2016-2017, through the Building Brighter Futures: Bursaries, Scholarships and Awards program, Indspire awarded $11.6 million through 3,764 awards and scholarships to First Nations, Inuit and Métis students across Canada.

“The needs are huge in our communities, but for me the key is education,” Jamieson tells SmartBIZ.  “When Indigenous students have access to education, a magical transformation happens, not just for individuals, but for entire communities. This transformation will lead to economic development and healthier communities.”

On average, about 37 per cent of First Nations students graduate from high school, compared to a near 87 per cent among Canadian students generally.

One of the challenges is the misconception about Indigenous students being guaranteed government funding, a fact Jamieson says people need to be more aware of.

“There are huge disparities in education funding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and there’s a myth out there that Indigenous students are guaranteed government funding for all their education,”

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, from 2006 to 2011, more than 18,000 Aboriginal people were denied funding, representing approximately half of those who qualified.

“This is a challenge both for the Indigenous youth who are not getting the funding they need to go on to post-secondary education, and for Indspire in trying to raise money from a Canadian public who may not be aware of the realities of those students,” Jamieson adds.

The other critical challenge Jamieson says is the lack of resources for educators that validate Indigenous ways of knowing, which is why Indspire provides resources to educators of K-12 Indigenous students through its K-12 Institute.

“We know that to create systemic change in Indigenous education, we need to do more than offer scholarships and bursaries, we need to make sure students are graduating high school, and that is what The Institute is working toward through programs, information, and tools to improve education outcomes and ultimately increase high school graduation rates.”

The Indigenous students that were given financial aid by Indspire yielded a 96% graduation rate of which 53% decided to further their education in either a second degree, master’s, or PhD.  Forty-two percent of the graduates were employed and of the 42% that were employed, 61% indicate that they are going back and servicing Indigenous populations.  Since Jamieson started with Indspire in 2004, Indspire has awarded 27,926 scholarships and bursaries amounting to $87,330.075.

Jamieson, a Mohawk from Ontario’s Six nations of the Grand River Territory, was the first First Nation woman in Canada to earn a law degree, the first woman Ombudsman of Ontario; and the first woman elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She has been appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a place in the “Canada’s Most Powerful Women” Hall of Fame by Women’s Executive Network.   As accomplished as she has been, she wants to continue working towards change.

“That’s why I’m doing this with my life at this point. I want to make change in my lifetime for our people and Canada,” adds Jamieson.  “With Canada’s current political climate, I’m more optimistic now than I ever have been,” adding that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has brought home to Canadians the truth of their country’s history, which has really set the table for change.

“Just 10 per cent of our people graduate from university, compared to about 27 percent of Canadians generally.  That deficiency affects our ability to decolonize our relationship with Canada, to be able to play our own role in the reconciliation process, to create healthy communities, to make them prosper and to contribute our full potential to our people, to Canada and to the world,” says Jamieson.

“When our young people believe they are persons of value and that their cultures are valuable, they will respond by realizing they have talent, potential, intelligence, and something special to offer. They’ll do better in school, they’ll get better jobs, and they’ll bring those positive changes back to their communities.”

Jamieson says Indigenous education is a powerful force to propel Canada across the threshold into a new era of true reconciliation.

“It is a time when we can take the learnings from the past in a way that will allow us to acknowledge our shared history, and move forward.  We celebrate our continued willingness to share, and be part of building this nation – and creating a better future. I believe Canadians want to see systemic change that improves Indigenous lives, and makes them proud to be Canadians.”

Inspire is helping Indigenous students further their education, but in the end, it’s the students dedication that is making them successful.

“The dedication of the students involved in Indspire’s programs demonstrates the potential and hope these young people have”, says Jamieson. “These young people are not just future Indigenous leaders but future leaders of our country.”

Jamieson says she’s optimistic about where Canada is headed, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

“Within a generation, I want every First Nation, Inuit, and Métis student to graduate high school. From there, I’d like to see every student who wants to go on to post-secondary education, be able to do that.”

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