Ottawa cuts its portion of Kenjgewin Teg funds by 75%

Move seen as unusual in light of school’s cultural programming and feds’ TRC promises

M’CHIGEENG—Normally, in the world of government program funding, no news is at least a good indication that the status quo will prevail, but administrators at Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute (KTEI) were shocked this summer when they learned that their federal program funding would not be forthcoming this year.

KTEI Executive Director Stephanie Roy noted that the M’Chigeeng based aboriginal educational institute had applied as usual for funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) from the Post Secondary Partnership Program. “We have been part of the project for 20 years,” noted Ms. Roy. In order to receive the funding, an applicant must be an aboriginal institute and there are nine such in Ontario.

“We were first told on July 26 that our proposal for this year’s allocation, 2016-17, would not be funded,” she noted. Of the nine aboriginal institutions in Ontario, only three were to receive the funding this year. “That was with only four weeks left before programs with our college and university partners are set to start.”

When KTEI has not heard back on a funding application that has been running for several years, the norm is to assume and plan for the status quo, noted Ms. Roy. So if there is a problem, the institution would normally hear earlier rather than later? “Exactly,” said Ms. Roy. “You go with the status quo. (The notice that KTEI would not be receiving the federal funding) took us all by shock.”

Ms. Roy noted that the drop in funding “has a big impact. We had to start scaling down operations, staff has no security.”

Over the next three weeks an intense lobbying effort began, with the local federal representative Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes and different departments within the federal government. The result was a message received on August 17 that the application had been reconsidered and that some federal funding would flow.

“We will receive about $197,000, enough to run about six programs,” said Ms. Roy, “but that is about a quarter of what we receive.”

Although they had received no clear indication of why their fortunes had plummeted so drastically, Ms. Roy said their independent research suggests that the funding had been reallocated to the mainstream colleges and universities. “It seems to be a part of their agenda to move students into the mainstream system,” she said. “That might not be half bad,” she said, should that then flow to the partnership programming, but “the funding is not going to the institutions that we partner with.”

The decision to cut funding is particularly puzzling given that KTEI has an outstanding success rate, particularly with difficult to serve groups. “In particular, over the last five years we have graduated over 260 students with different certificates, diplomas and degrees,” said Ms. Roy. “Then you get the rug pulled out from under you.”

“KTEI is exactly the kind of programming that makes a real difference for First Nations students and their communities, which is why it’s so difficult to understand why federal funding would suddenly dry up,” agreed Ms. Hughes in a press release. “This is the first time in 20 years that funding has been denied,” said Ms. Hughes. “This threatens the institute and stands in stark contrast to the government’s commitment to close the First Nation education gap.”

“It’s critical that the funding continues to flow to KTEI for the students who are the most important component in this whole dilemma,” said UCCMM Chief Executive Officer Hazel Recollet, quoted in the release from Ms. Hughes office. “We are so fortunate to have an institute with immense knowledge like KTEI—and it’s local so students don’t have to leave home, it’s all right here.” The release noted that KTEI provides training to between 50 and 75 students a year.

Despite the setback, KTEI is determined to soldier on, noted Ms. Roy. “We still have a provincial partner and we are going forward. We will move to Plan B.”

“The school year is just about to start so it’s critical that this process gets moving,” said Ms. Hughes. “I am confident there is a solution that will maintain this institute and others like it. The opportunity it allows these youth is well worth a little extra effort all around.”

Requests for clarification on the rationale for the reduced program funding from INAC and Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office on the rationale for the reduction in funding had not been received by press time Monday.