Roberta Jamieson; Photo credit: Indspire
This week we asked Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO of Indspire (formerly National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation), to be our guest blogger, responding to questions we had about the Idle No More movement.
We thank Roberta for taking the time to answer our questions. The views, opinions and positions expressed are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect those of Suncor.
Known for her work in dispute resolution, Roberta is a leader and role model for both Aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people alike. She is the first Aboriginal woman to earn a law degree in Canada and the first woman appointed Ontario’s Ombudsman, a position she held for a decade.
Roberta has collaborated with legal and political experts around the world to advance democracy through institutional change. She is a member of the Order of Canada.
What do you think of the Idle No More movement?
Over the years, I have had the honour of witnessing and often personally participating in many movements to raise awareness about Indigenous issues. Movements like Idle No More take root only when sufficient numbers of people deeply identify with and support the cause.
It is absolutely clear that Idle No More has really struck a strong chord among our people. It is also clear that members of the broader public have been attracted to Idle No More because the fundamental issues of equality and inclusion resonate so strongly.
I also find it very encouraging to see and hear so many Indigenous people getting involved and insisting, as they should, that they be heard.
You sound encouraged about the direction for Indigenous youth. Why?
Why not? They are Canada’s fastest growing demographic group at the same time we are facing a looming labour shortage in our nation. The opportunities are there for Indigenous youth and all of Canada to benefit.
At the same time, we need to find more ways to help them achieve their dreams. Indigenous students cite lack of financial support as the greatest barrier to their success in achieving post-secondary qualifications. Indigenous parents, like most other Canadian parents, rate education for their children as their highest priority.
Indspire has to date distributed more than $50 million to more than 14,000 Indigenous students nationwide. Our annual distribution has grown in recent years and is now $6 million annually to more than 2200 students. Indspire has had remarkable success in attracting the generous support of the private sector. The private sector support has grown to the level of 25% of the scholarships and bursaries we distribute. Suncor is a huge champion for Indspire and an important funder for our work.
What opportunities may result from increased awareness of indigenous issues?
I hope that greater awareness can mean more understanding of the true needs and circumstances of Indigenous youth.
In Canada, there are still a lot of what I’ll charitably call ‘comfortable myths’ about the support received by Indigenous students seeking a post-secondary education. Unfortunately, there are still people who believe that First Nation students receive ‘cradle to grave’ support for their education and that education is free to all Indigenous students. Some students receive some support. But huge gaps and inequities remain.
Last year, I proposed a matching funds program to the federal government for post-secondary Indigenous education. If the federal government will provide an additional $50 million in bursary and scholarship funding, Indspire is confident corporate sponsors, supporters and individual Canadians will rise to the challenge. That will mean more Indigenous youth leaving high school for a post-secondary education. More Indigenous doctors, health professionals, skilled tradespeople, and engineers. More Indigenous people participating in the economy, contributing to their community’s well-being and yes… the country’s economy.
So, raising awareness will raise the consciousness of all Canadians of this great opportunity to help future generations of Indigenous youth take their rightful place in the country and economy.
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