Debates of the Senate  
  1st Session, 39th Parliament,Volume 143, Issue 109.
    Monday, June 18, 2007
Inquiry-Debate: Post-secondary Education
  On the Order: Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Tardif calling the attention of the Senate to questions concerning post-secondary education in Canada.(Honourable Senator Dyck)

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, it is my pleasure to join the debate on the inquiry of Honourable Senator Tardif calling the attention of the Senate to questions concerning post-secondary education in Canada.

As indicated previously, I will focus my remarks on Aboriginal post-secondary education in Canada with a particular focus on Saskatchewan. I will share with honourable senators a large number of statistics. It is important to share these statistics because government policy is based on statistics that have been published. The statistics I will present today are some that I compiled myself from the Statistics Canada results posted on their website.

I will talk about the different demographics between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal nations in Canada and in Saskatchewan. I will talk about barriers and focus on one particular solution that was put forward by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the other House.

To briefly review the statistics in Canada from 2001, 3 per cent of the Canadian population is Aboriginal. In Saskatchewan, 14 per cent of the population is Aboriginal and that is closely matched with our neighbouring province, Manitoba, which is also about 14 per cent. We have the highest Aboriginal population in Canada.

In Saskatoon, the percentage of the population that is Aboriginal is 9 per cent. As I said, this was in 2001. In 2006 those percentages will have grown.

In Canada, the majority of Aboriginals are in the Indian population; 62 per cent were Indian, 30 per cent were Mtis, 5 per cent were Inuit and 2 per cent were multiple identifications because of inter-marriage issues.

It is important to note that there are vastly different patterns in the numbers, percentages and subtypes of Aboriginal peoples in the different provinces and territories in Canada. What occurs in the Prairies is very different from what occurs in Nunavut.

Compared to the rest of the Canadian population, it is true that the Aboriginal population as a whole is relatively young and growing more rapidly. That is, we have a higher birthrate in the Aboriginal population than we do in the non-Aboriginal population. It is estimated that one-quarter of the Aboriginal population is below the age of 14, which indicates the relative youth of the population. This is important to remember because in my mind this is like a brown baby boom.

Some of us belong to the baby boomers. Mainstream Canadian society is composed mainly of aging baby boomers with very few children. The Aboriginal population is relatively young with a high birthrate. With the strength of those numbers we will see a sea change in Canada; maybe more dramatically in the Prairies because of the percentages. We must address this and must put plans in place to manage the situation so that this group will be able to escape from the cycle of poverty. Education is the way to get out of that cycle of poverty.

It has been predicted that by 2017, 21 per cent of the population in Saskatchewan will be Aboriginal. It has been predicted that by 2045, 50 per cent of the population of Saskatchewan will be Aboriginal. Honourable senators will understand that with rapid growth comes the need to manage the change.

As in the rest of Canada, the majority of Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan are Indian; 64 per cent were Indian in 2001, 34 per cent were Mtis and 0.2 per cent were Inuit.

In Canada in 2001, Aboriginals lagged behind non-Aboriginals at all levels of education. I deliberately looked at the age group 25 to 44 because I know it takes Aboriginal people longer to complete high school and post-secondary education at the university level. It is very important to select the right age group to look at.

Looking at that age group of 25 to 44, 35 per cent of the Aboriginal population had less than a high-school completion. This sounds terrible, but it is interesting to note that 17 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population also had less than a high-school completion. The mainstream non-Aboriginal Canadian society does not have a very high rate of high-school completion.

If we look at granting bachelor's degrees in university, 5 per cent of the Canadian Aboriginal population had a bachelor's degree compared to 16 per cent for non-Aboriginals. In other words, Aboriginals were only at one-third the rate for completion of a university bachelor's degree. Obviously, this is something that needs to be looked at and changed.

If all things were equal in Canada, that is, if Aboriginals had equal access to post-secondary education, if they had equal economic benefits, equal social benefits, 47,676 Aboriginals rather than 14,105 in the age group 25 to 44 would have had a bachelor's degree in 2001. Some 33,000 more Aboriginal people would have had a bachelor's degree, if all things were equal.

Similarly, if all things were equal, 10,547, rather than 1,490 Aboriginals would have had a master's degree. And 1,582 rather than 155 would have had an earned doctorate.

The post-graduate degrees, especially at the earned doctorate level, are important to record, because usually an earned doctorate is the minimum qualification to teach at a university. It is important to have Aboriginals represented in the teaching faculties at the universities and to do that they need a doctorate degree.

This government has taken the Mendelson report from June 2006 into consideration in the response to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the other place saying that because the high school completion rate on reserve is poor, they want to focus on high school completion rather than university education.

However, the Mendelson report looked only at the age group 20 to 24 and did not allow for delayed completion. It took a narrow window. On reserve, high school completion is poor; approximately 58 per cent have not completed their high school in Canada, and in Saskatchewan, 61 per cent have not completed their high school education.

We must put this into the context that these are on-reserve Aboriginals, which represents, in Canada as a whole, only 30-some-odd per cent of the total population, and in Saskatchewan, it represents about half the population. It is a skewed statistic. One should not use that statistic alone to base any government policy on or any decision making.

In Saskatchewan, in 2001, as in Canada, Aboriginals lagged behind non-Aboriginals in their educational level. The statistics in Saskatchewan are similar; 38 per cent of Aboriginals have not completed high school and 21 per cent of non-Aboriginals have not completed their high school.

For bachelor's-degree completion, 6 per cent of Aboriginals have a bachelor's degree and 14 per cent of non-Aboriginals have a bachelor's degree. It is about two-and-a-half times less for Aboriginals than it is for non-Aboriginals.

If all things were equal in Saskatchewan, in 2001, we would have had 4,971 Aboriginals aged 25 to 44, rather than 2,090 with a bachelor's degree; if all things were equal, 614 Aboriginals rather than 70 would have had a master's degree; and 145 rather than zero would have had an earned doctorate in 2001.

Those numbers of actual individuals would be required to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals in terms of higher education.

I will not read out the statistics for the gender differences, but it is important to note that there are interesting gender differences in educational accomplishments between men and women. In the Aboriginal population, whether we look at Canada or at Saskatchewan in particular, if we look at the bachelor's degrees granted; 8 per cent are granted to female Aboriginals and 4 per cent to male Aboriginals. In other words, female Aboriginals receive bachelor's degrees at twice the rate of male Aboriginals. If we look at any university, we see that in the student population and we see that in the classrooms. The women are earning the advanced degrees.

If we look at high school completion, it is the young men who are dropping out. This problem should be addressed because we cannot have that imbalance. Much as I am a feminist and I love to see women get ahead, we must have a balance. We must have the men coming up as well. We cannot have a society where only the women have the education.

If the sexes were equal in the Aboriginal population, 1,266 rather than 625 Aboriginal men aged 25 to 44 would have had a bachelor's degree in Saskatchewan in 2001. About 600 more men would have had a bachelor's degree.

Interestingly, when we look at the higher degrees of master's and doctorate, it is the men who have the doctorate degrees rather than the women; which is the same trend in the non-Aboriginal population. The women are earning the bachelor's degree but not the doctorate.

Probably many of you saw the article in The Globe and Mail about a week ago by Michael Valpy about Aboriginal post-secondary education. He used the title "Education is our Buffalo," which he obtained during a conversation with me. There will always be exceptions to the rule such as me. I am almost 62 I came through the system despite the obstacles and barriers. However, we need to put in place opportunity so not only the exceptional people get through. We want as many people to go through as possible. In the Aboriginal community, in particular, it is important to do that because there is a huge gap. To turn society around, we need a higher level of education. We know, with greater education, particularly at the university level, we have higher income levels, and we get out of the cycle of poverty, and then the social conditions also improve.

I was lucky that I went to a high school that was exceptionally good, and I want to record that my chemistry teacher, John Dyer, was a person who said to my brother and me, "You two are bright; you should go to university. You may be poor and not white but you need to go." Due to his influence, both my brother and I attended university.

What is one of the biggest barriers to university education? Finances. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommended the funding cap of 2 per cent in the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs be removed on post-secondary education. Apparently that will not happen because of the focus on high school completion; but the cost of an education is a huge impediment. If we look at the income levels in the Aboriginal population on reserve, the average income is $15,000. It is dismal. Off-reserve, they estimate the average income to be $21,000. The non-Aboriginal average income salary for a family is $31,000. There is a huge disparity in economics. To get around that, Aboriginals need the education to overcome those economics.

Removal of that 2 per cent cap would make a big difference because the estimates are that several thousands of Aboriginal students are waiting to get into university education or other technical or post-secondary education institutions, but because they cannot obtain funding from their band, they cannot go on to further education. Because they come from families that do not have the money, they cannot go. Particularly if they live on reserve where they have few resources, funding creates a tremendous barrier.

The other barriers identified from various reports, the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation is putting out reports virtually every month on post-secondary education for Aboriginals. They identify cost as the biggest barrier. They surveyed Aboriginal students and cost was their biggest barrier. Academic preparation was the second barrier, because one must have adequate preparation to succeed. Finally, the atmosphere at the institution was also important. That is, do Aboriginal people feel included? Those are the barriers.

There is another thing to note with respect to post-secondary education.

May I have a few more minutes, Your Honour?

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it agreed?

Hon Senators: Agreed.

Senator Dyck: If honourable senators look at Aboriginals in post-secondary institutions in universities, in particular about half of them are over 22 years age. It is usually an older population, usually female, and about one third have children. What they do not say in this report is that most of the people who are there who have children are single mothers. Despite that, we still see more women than men getting bachelor's degrees.

Honourable senators, these women are very determined. They are living under the worst possible circumstances, raising children on their own and coming from poor families, yet they know to get ahead they must get an education. Whatever plan is devised must also take into account the barriers of raising a family. We know that the universities have been set up essentially for a younger population, usually students who are single and students who do not have children. Accommodation needs to be made for that. The biggest thing to overcome is the financial barrier. To do that, removal of the cap on post-secondary programming through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada would make a huge impact.

To conclude, I would like to share something that came from the minutes of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee. We had a witness from Saskatchewan by the name of Mr. Slavik who made the case that education is also necessary in terms of First Nations being able to self-govern themselves. He said:

That is roughly 320 chiefs-in-council we work with. Less than 5 per cent of those have finished high school. Less than 2 per cent have university education. We are asking people who do not have the same educational or experiential skill set to manage increasingly complex administrative, jurisdictional and fiscal arrangements.

Education is also key for First Nations to be able to take over and manage their own self-government. If we go back to the famous Kelowna accord, in the area of post-secondary education, at the Kelowna summit, the document, "First Ministers and National Aboriginal Leaders: Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap," which may also be known as the Kelowna accord, the former Government of Canada committed to closing the gap by 50 per cent in 10 years, meaning an increase of 14,800 post-secondary graduates over the next five years and 37,000 more in the next 10 years. To reach that goal, the previous government committed a $500 million investment over five years, including bursaries, scholarships and apprenticeships. The previous government committed to working with Aboriginal organizations in provinces and territories to determine how best to target the funding over a five- to 10-year period. That is the kind of gap we are looking at: Huge numbers that need to go to post-secondary education.

To conclude, access to education and getting an education is a treaty right. The treaties that our Elders and that would be people like my great-grandfather signed were treaties with the British Crown thinking ahead seven generations, not just at the current time. Everything is planned for seven generations. I am only the third generation. We have a long way to go. We still have at least four more generations to consider. I also have to plan ahead for the next seven generations. Education is a treaty right and that treaty right has not yet been realized. We need to continue to remember that and to continue to make change to realize that that particular right.

I will conclude with that same statement that our Elders have made and that is quoted by Michael Valpy from The Globe and Mail : "Education is our Buffalo." The buffalo have disappeared. The buffalo was so important to our culture, the economic, social and spiritual well-being of our people. Education has now taken over a good part of that role. In French it states: L'ducation est notre bison, and in Cree we say, "Paskww mostoswa kkisk in waha m khk."

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

On motion of Senator Hubley, debate adjourned.