Ontario may have given a one-year reprieve to a First Nations post-secondary school in the province, but that doesn’t mean the federal government can shirk its responsibility to fund important aboriginal programs, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said Tuesday.The First National Technical Institute near Belleville, Ont., can stay open another year after getting a $1.5-million cheque from the province Tuesday. The future of the school on the Tyendinaga Mohawk reserve was in doubt after the federal government trimmed its annual funding to the institution.
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While federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl hailed the funding as the “Ontario government recognizing its responsibility for aboriginal post-secondary education,” Bryant said he hopes that comment is “an April Fool’s joke.”
The provincial funding only tides the school over until Ottawa lives up to its constitutional responsibility, Bryant said.
“Obviously this is federal jurisdiction, as obvious as national defence and lighthouses are a federal jurisdiction,” Bryant said, adding the province felt compelled to save the school. “We just couldn’t stand idly by.”
The First Nations Technical Institute, founded in 1985, is the longest standing aboriginal post-secondary school in Ontario and offers programs in partnership with colleges and universities in a range of studies, including social work, public administration and aviation.
The “renowned and respected” school has graduated more than 2,000 First Nations students, Bryant said, adding the funding will ensure “many, many more” students graduate and enter the workforce.
The province saved the school from the brink of closure by “intercepting the pink slips which literally had been sent out,” Bryant said. But it’s up to the federal government to ensure the long-term survival of the institution, he added.
“In the long run, this is not sustainable,” Bryant said. “There is a treasury for federal responsibilities and a tax base for federal responsibilities. At some point, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and that’s exactly what we did. We had to step in. Over my dead political body were those doors going to close.”
In Ottawa, Strahl released a statement saying he was encouraged to see Ontario live up to its responsibility to fund aboriginal post-secondary education.
For the third year in a row, Strahl said the federal government gave the school $528,000 over and above its annual funding to ensure it could finish the semester. But the school should start looking for “alternative funding sources” from the private sector, the business community, alumni and the Ontario government, Strahl added.
“While the government of Canada does provide annual funding to FNTI, post-secondary education institutions are normally a provincial responsibility,” Strahl’s statement said.
“We remain committed to working with FNTI officials to find creative solutions to their current difficulties and to help it evolve into a fully self-sufficient and sustainable educational institution.”
-with a report from CP