Canada Student Loans discriminates against Indigenous students

By in Opinions

Over 2,000 Indigenous students attend the University of Saskatchewan, each with unique experiences and financial situations. Yet, Indigenous students seeking funding through Canada Student Loans are automatically flagged in the system to receive manual intervention on their forms, inhibiting their ability to pay rent and buy textbooks in their first months of school, a flag regarded as institutionalized racism by many.

Post-secondary funding for Indigenous students is already precarious. Students seeking band funding face a competitive field, and some bands have specific expectations for recipients. Many students supplement inadequate funding with employment or additional loans.

Education funding is a treaty right, one of many that has been ignored since the first treaty was signed, and has been furthered eroded by provincial-government funding cuts and a choice by successive federal governments to ignore the post-secondary needs of Indigenous people, such as refusing to implement the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People.

Every student who contributed to this article reported knowing someone from their community who qualified to attend university but was unable to due to lack of funding. Sullen nods answered the question of whether they were scared of losing funding. Many Indigenous students must take on debt or play a gamble for funding and just hope the funding covers their needs if they get it.

If Indigenous students seek assistance from CSL but have received band funding in the past or are currently receiving band funding, they can experience CSL delays until as late as November.

Delays are a problem for any student who needs manual intervention on their CSL application. Any error or apparent irregularity, no matter how minor, requires manual intervention that can take weeks to correct because of funding-related staff reductions at the university. However, the reaction of the system to band funding means that Indigenous applicants have more difficulty than others.

Wendy Klingenberg, associate registrar at the U of S, could not stress enough the importance of students reaching out to Student Central when experiencing delays. She explains that Student Central has hired an Indigenous-student recruiter and someone specific to work on issues that Indigenous students face.

“We’re in the business of getting as much money as we can into the hands of students as fast as we can. We’re here to help,” Klingenberg said.

However, there is an apparent lack of communication between the university and its students. While Klingenberg highlighted the services available and the work they are doing to help remedy these issues, students did not know of these services when asked, and those who did reported not finding out about them until their second or third year of university.

Leigh Thomas, a third-year regional and urban planning student, discusses the lack of communication between administration and students.

“If there was a first-year [student], they wouldn’t know what to do. If no one’s talking about the issue and its solutions, nothing’s going to happen. [You must] engage with students — we don’t need people to talk for us, but to listen,” Thomas said.

Regan Ratt-Misponas, Indigenous Students’ Council president, explains that in order to address this issue, there must be co-operation between all parties involved.

“This needs to be a joint task of the university, the communities and the federal and provincial governments to make the university more affordable and accessible. It’s important to do this in the spirit of reconciliation, in the spirit of treaty and in the spirit of Indigenization,” Ratt-Misponas said.

One student reflected that adding a Dene class would appeal to people in his community because of its Indigenous-focused content. Another student suggested creating a system within the university database to prevent CSL from spitting out Indigenous students’ applications, citing that it would help speed up the process for students needing manual intervention for things like spelling errors.

By ignoring student perspectives, the federal bureaucracy shows institutionalized racism regardless of individual bureaucrats’ intents. Only by working together will meaningful solutions be put in place.

Lia Storey-Gamble

Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag / Photo Editor