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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I'm getting a little tired of the Auditor General 

The Auditor General quibbles about jurisdictional issues, while ignoring the real problem - that thousands of Aboriginal students cannot go to university.
This story Native education losing ground quotes the Auditor General criticizing how federal dollars are spent in education for Aboriginal students --"Indian Affairs has done little to fix a troubling range of old problems. . . These include jurisdictional squabbles, low teacher salaries, poor training and lax tracking of public dollars."
The story goes on to note that First Nations bands now manage 496 of the 503 schools on reserves - but this means the responsibility for salaries and training rests with the bands now, not with Indian Affairs. The "lax tracking of public dollars" is also a misleading statement, because the bands now do their own tracking.
What the Auditor General apparently does not mention, perhaps because she doesn't agree with it, is that the basic goal of supporting First Nations self-governance means that the bands are given the federal dollars to support education without federal strings attached -- self-government MEANS that the bands, not Indian Affairs, get to decide how the money is spent. To an auditor, this may be an accounting problem, but there are larger public goals here than accounting.
The basic problem is NOT accounting at all -- it is likely that most of the bands are doing their best. They simply do not have enough money - to pay higher salaries, to attract better-trained teachers, to finance more post-secondary students.
The true scandal in this story is buried at the end -- that 2,000 fewer post-secondary students are being supported this year than last, and there is a waiting list of 10,000 for post-secondary funding.
What most Canadians do not realize is that Aboriginal students are not eligible for Canada Student Loans. If their bands cannot afford to finance their post-secondary education, the only option for these students is to try to work their way through on their own -- an almost-impossible task with today's higher tuitions, particularly for an Aboriginal student, usually without parents or family who can help out, perhaps living for the first time in a city, unlikely to have the job skills or family connections to get a high-enough-paying summer job to cover the thousands needed for that tuition payment in September. These students are ambitious, willing, intelligent, hardworking -- and SOL until their band can support them. And THAT'S a far more serious problem for our country than any Auditor-General's report.

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