Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Witnesses and honourable members, I am honoured to be here with you virtually. I am speaking from Oakville, which is in the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the Wendat peoples, and my own people, the Haudenosaunee. I'll be speaking about the snapshot I heard from indigenous learners facing COVID-19 in post-secondary institutions.
COVID-19 has brought out many unprecedented challenges that nobody expected. Post-secondary education was no exception to the pandemic. Students and many of our indigenous learners have had to adjust to a new way of learning, through a virtual experience. In my work as director of indigenous engagement, I have heard from many students regarding this change. Many have had a hard time adjusting. There are students who have no access to proper Internet services on reserve, and in some cases have to drive to a nearby town or Tim Hortons parking lot to access Wi-Fi to conduct their studies.
School is already stressful as it is, but COVID has added a new layer of stress. Students no longer have access to spaces on campus where they would normally conduct their studies and no longer have access to indigenous centres for cultural support.
We have heard a lot that technology is an issue for students as well. A lot of people don't have access to computers or don't have their own computers, so access to campuses is a huge priority. At Sheridan, we have a laptop loan program for students in critical need. It is easy for those who live outside of a reserve community or rural area to immediately switch to remote working and learning, but for many of our students this is not the case. Many are out of work, and many cannot access the important support services that they require without going somewhere in person.
The post-secondary student support program is the main program that administers band funding, and each band has a different way of interpreting the national policy on it. We heard that many students had a difficult time receiving support from their band, as many were living far away from their community. Some students are even required to have an attendance sheet, because of the administrative burden the program places on students and staff.
I also want to bring up the follow-up paperwork that needs to be submitted. Despite COVID-19 and despite that everyone has had to adjust to a new way of working and learning, the deadline to submit follow-up paper submissions has not changed. In fact, instead, it has kept with the status quo. I know that in my own community of Six Nations of the Grand River, a lot of people still have to follow the same deadlines, so if they didn't have the Internet or a computer to apply online for the May 1 deadline, they were not eligible.
When I bring this up, I really hope that people understand that this program needs to be nimble. The information regarding supports for indigenous learners is not clear and there are no updates or guidelines for students who are being funded through their bands. In my belief, stronger communication between governments, organizations and post-secondary institutions will ensure that students are being supported as best they can be, because we at the school have direct contact with many of our learners. The funding formulas for this program should be examined, as many students are applying to post-secondary institutions. As the country reopens, many will also need to re-skill and potentially go back to school.
I heard from two students from different communities in northern Ontario. They were not allowed to go back to their communities because of access restrictions. They had to remain living off reserve because of that. In my view, it appears that indigenous learners are in the grey area when it comes to post-secondary education, as it's mainly a provincial responsibility. However, I know that the federal government has a duty to first nations, Inuit and Métis in this regard as well.
Before I finish, I want to share some exciting news with all of you. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, 51 indigenous learners graduated from Sheridan this term. I'm very proud of all of those students.