To the Expositor:
I have attended many graduation ceremonies over the years in First Nations communities and at several post secondary institutions. There is nothing more breathtaking or moving than to witness a procession of First Nation post secondary graduates enter a room with the grandfather drum sounding an honour song and seeing family and community members there to offer support and extend their congratulations for the students on their accomplishments. More often than not, those graduates have had to overcome very difficult challenges in their lives and succeeded against all odds.
On December 17, 2011 the Wikwemikong Post Secondary Counselling Unit, Wikwemikong Board of Education and the community came out to honour 75 post secondary graduates from the class of 2011. The 75 graduates, including my son, had all received either diplomas, degrees or masters in a wide variety of professions from various community colleges, universities, and First Nations post-secondary institutions, both in Canada and abroad.
As a parent I cannot begin to describe the sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt at that very moment. To see your child along with so many other First Nation students being honoured for their success and to have so many community members come out to share in this celebration and stand beside them was absolutely amazing.
The supports provided by the community through the post secondary student Ssupport program, the education counsellors and the education program staff were critical to the success of all of these students and they all need to be commended for the great work that they do for each of our students.
If we want to look for success stories in First Nations education, we need not look any farther than First Nation education post secondary program. There are now thousands of post secondary graduates that have gone through the program and become successful professionals, making important contributions to society. Many have had to overcome great challenges, dealing with the impacts of colonization, systemic racism, poverty, social issues, residential school, loss of cultural identity and language.
If we factor in all of these challenges, along with the fact that post secondary funding has been capped at 2 percent since 1996 and that First Nations schools receive 0 percent funding for libraries, technology, sports and recreation, vocational training, curriculum development, teacher training and benefits, and aboriginal language revitalization and protection, First Nations should get an A+ for their exceptional role in maintaining and managing such a successful program.
It is evident by the success of the students in this one community that the post secondary student support program is effective, and that role that people play at the community level is critical. So hats off to all our First Nation education directors, education counsellors, administrators and to the community for believing in the students who access and graduate through the program.