Kwe. Hello, everyone.
My name is Paige Isaac. I am Mi'kmaq and I am from Listigouche First Nation.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for inviting me here to speak. I feel very honoured.
I'm a McGill graduate. I'm a biology major. I started working at the First Peoples' House at McGill University as soon as I finished, and have a new-found passion for education and advancing aboriginal education in this country.
I'll say a little bit about the First Peoples' House and how we contribute to the economic prospects of aboriginal people through education.
We're a part of student services. We're dedicated to providing support for first nations, Inuit, Métis, status and non-status students by establishing a sense of community and a voice for these students who have left their home communities in order to pursue their education. A large part of our student population is women and mothers. We see a lot of the active student population. They're in medicine, law, education, and social work, among other fields. We offer wide-ranging activities. Our staff has actually grown in recent years to help manage this. We do everything from outreach to communities as early as grade school and high school, to families, and to other universities. We support them while they're here, we celebrate them at graduation, and we help with their integration into employment.
I just want to highlight a couple of our really successful outreach programs. This year will see our sixth annual Eagle Spirit High Performance Camp. It runs for a long weekend in May and brings together aboriginal youth ages 13 to 17 from all over the country to come to McGill, spend a weekend here, learn about health careers, amongst others, and find their passion. And there's a lot of focus on sports and physical fitness and overall well-being.
We're seeing a lot more campers, actually, apply to McGill. We have our first student completing his first year at university here. He wants to get into sports medicine. So it's a really successful program. We collaborate with many different people, and you can see that in my notes. We also raise awareness in the McGill community about aboriginal history, culture, and identity through various programs.
I'll talk a little bit about the obstacles. The recommendation I would have is for a sustainable and long-term investment, especially to keep some of the new positions we have. They're running on grants and need to be continually renewed. Funding for students—the post-secondary student support program—is not up to par with the cost of living. This program needs to be maintained. I would encourage that it not turn into a loan program, and that the cap be removed and increased. It offers a lot of restrictions. A lot of our students have to be full-time, they sometimes can't take classes in the summer, and it is good for only certain programs. It doesn't actually support transitional programs, which some universities are developing because they see a need, because some K to 12 students are not being qualified to go into university. So it would be really great if some of these programs could be supported.
In terms of housing, we actually offer housing in our building, but the costs are very high and it's not suitable for families.
I see the need for culturally appropriate counselling. There's a lot of healing needed, and a lot of students do not feel comfortable seeing just any counsellor. There's a need for more communication between community post-secondary counsellors, institutions, and federal and provincial governments to come together to create a more uniform and modernized strategy to advance aboriginal education.
I was recently at a conference and we were discussing unemployment and poverty. They had the statistics up there—high unemployment and high poverty—and one student brought up a really good point. She asked if we could break down these terms and ask who sets these standards.
I think a lot more could be in the discussion on unemployment and poverty, such as our aboriginal values in these standards that have been put in place. What does it mean to aboriginal people to be unemployed and living in poverty? It's a very diverse situation for many different people.
You know, we're always associated with some of these nasty statistics. There is not enough recognition that the situations of aboriginal people around the country are diverse. Stereotypes still exist because of these statistics. More emphasis could be put on what we are doing right and what we're doing well. We are doctors, lawyers, and CEOs. This needs to be visible.
There are structural and systemic problems. Aboriginal and western values tend to clash. I think there needs to be better coordination and more education and awareness campaigns. I think it needs to be moved beyond just awareness. We need to move towards more understanding.
I think a mandated improved aboriginal curriculum in K to 12 is definitely needed. Then we wouldn't have to go do all these education and awareness campaigns. We would be dealing with these in school, talking about them more in-depth, analyzing them, and coming up with solutions together. We would have a curriculum with indigenous perspectives and resources.
Faculties of education in universities and colleges across the country can do the same. We're teaching future teachers, and everyone has to be in the same boat learning how to engage with aboriginal issues.
There should be more mentoring and support, especially for graduate students. As I work in the university, we would like to see that happening.
There should be more aboriginal inclusion. One of our students would really like to see a commercial highlighting various aboriginal people in various positions to really make these positions and fields more visible so that young aboriginal women and boys can see themselves in these work fields.
We should highlight or create a document on useful grants that could help fund economic projects on and off reserve. Making that information easily accessible would be good.
I'll raise some particular factors affecting women. Child care is one. Raising a family while in school, away from community support, is a big one. In most cases, the women going back to school are the sole caretakers. We tend to see aboriginal mothers going back to school later on, because they see the importance of education, and they see it influencing their children. If they want their children to grow up to be successful, they know that they need to set that path. We need to support them.
Discrimination is another one. Being a woman and indigenous, it still happens.
There is self-esteem. Again, we need more mentoring programs. Programs that exist could be tailored and could connect with aboriginal communities to make sure that we're empowering all women.
There is a little bit of a difference between those on reserve and off reserve. Again, aboriginal people are very diverse, and we need to always keep that in mind. They're very diverse socially, culturally, and economically. We need to be aware of assumptions. I give an example here. When we're creating an outreach program, say with a school on reserve, that's great. At the same time, there are a lot of parents sending their children to private schools or urban schools, because they think that's a better opportunity for them. I think we need to make sure that we're aware of that and we reach out to those students as well.
I've noticed that a lot of on-reserve students coming to an urban setting have a lot more social, cultural, and emotional needs, because that's what they're getting in the community. We need to make sure that we're having that in the urban setting as well, and are creating that community. Students on reserve usually have to move to an urban setting, if they want the same opportunities as the rest of the population—whether that's going to high school, going to post-secondary, getting employment, or even for health.
So there are a lot of trade-offs. Because to get a good education and a chance to succeed, you most likely have to leave your community and your family and integrate.