“Imagine an Ontario where only 8% of students attend university or post-secondary training.”

When I was reviewing the transcripts of the hearings for my thesis research, I was continuously inspired by the words of Roberta Jamieson.

She made the suggestion that the federal government match the funds raised by Indspire. I was pleased to read this section of her recent speech at the Indspire awards:

“The federal government recently committed $10 million new dollars on the condition that Indspire raise matching funds from the private sector – and I am thrilled to say that we are at the $6.3 million mark and counting.”

I supposed that 12 years later is better than nothing, but the pace of policy change for Aboriginal PSE needs to move quicker at the federal level.

Here is a video of her speech:


Here is the full text of her speech:

Roberta L. Jamieson
President and CEO, Indspire
Executive Producer, Indspire Awards
Remarks – October 8, 2014, Toronto
Speech prepared in advance

Good evening! Bon soir! Sehkon!

I am deeply honoured that you have chosen me to receive the David C. Smith Award for 2014.

I accept the award in the name of the Indigenous peoples of Ontario who are currently in post-secondary studies and training, realizing their vision.

I also accept the award in the name of the tens of thousands of Indigenous youth of Ontario who are waiting to realize their potential – and who will do just that and more if we support them.

I think of them every day, and I want to recognize them in the dedication of the award.

With the award comes this opportunity to share my thoughts with you – I hope I can strike a chord in your mind, heart, and conscience so you will rededicate your efforts to ensure that these youth and children are not left behind.

I begin by acknowledging the Original Peoples of this place, this region, the Mississauga and Seneca, thanking those living, and those who have gone before for the honour and privilege of meeting on your land.

I hope tonight to advance one of the most important dialogues that will make a difference in the Canada of the 21st Century.

This is, I believe, an appropriate endeavour, in memory of David C. Smith, who is known for his contribution to public policy on higher education.

In 1996, David C. Smith was chair of the Advisory Panel on Future Directions for Post-secondary Education in Ontario, which reported to the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

The report “applauded and encouraged” “aboriginal groups” for their search for policies to fit their needs, felt the issues they raised “merited careful attention”, but felt the Panel’s time was too limited to address them.

Perhaps tonight we might constitute ourselves as “the 2014 panel on Future Directions for Post- Secondary Education in Ontario,” and, albeit 18 years later, fulfil David Smith’s hope that the major issues of Indigenous Peoples and higher education and training will be addressed.

To fully appreciate the situation we face, let’s start with a reality check. Now I have some difficulty, some conflict, in doing this.

I am dismayed that tragic troubling situations which I have seen over my lifetime continue to prevail as we move well into the 21st Century.

At the same time, I see so much change, so many real success stories that reinforce the point that when Indigenous Peoples are active participants in creating their own future – and have the resources to do it – such beautiful, positive results take place.

My feeling of encouragement runs into my impatience.

I hope nothing I may say leaves any impression of hopelessness.

To the contrary, there is much reason for optimism: the answers are known, the resources required are within Canada’s means, there is reason for optimism, and I encourage you to continue and increase your efforts to make room for Indigenous Peoples to assume their rightful place in the future of Canada.

Let me first acknowledge the demographic realities just so there is no question that we have them uppermost in our minds.

Imagine an Ontario in which over half the population were living generation after generation on social assistance supported by equalization payments from the other provinces, where money went into “relief” rather than rebuilding ravaged community economies.

Imagine an Ontario where only 8% of students attend university or post-secondary training.

Imagine an Ontario where there are critical shortages of trained people in every field, and insufficient numbers of students being prepared to fill the vacancies.

Imagine an Ontario where only half of the children in grade 6 are going to graduate from high school, that only two or three from every classroom have any hope of higher education.

An Ontario where over half of the children in the province live below the poverty line.

A place where thousands of the bright, competent students who do graduate from high school do not attend university simply because they lack the financial resources and other supports to make university a real possibility.

In two years, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the tabling of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that was established as a result of what Canada calls “the Oka Crisis” of 1990.

Remember? RCAP? 1996?

I am asking that you accept a brief review of the Royal Commission report as a reminder, a review of the targets we are to aim for, a helpful beacon to guide our efforts.

The Report is not out of date, but rather still timely:

Indigenous parents and communities must have the opportunity to implement our vision of education.

Indigenous children are entitled to learn and achieve in an environment that supports their development as whole individuals.

They need to value their heritage and identity in planning for the future. This will not happen if the education system continues unchanged.

For significant change to occur, Indigenous Peoples must have the authority to organize their own education and to influence how their children are educated in an integrated system of lifelong education.

It is vital that Indigenous parents and families be able to become involved, articulating and shaping the education they want for their children. . .

The Royal Commission recommended that instruction in Indigenous languages be assigned priority, that immersion programs be available.

Those were the beautiful, powerful conclusions in the Royal Commission Report with hundreds of recommendations as part of “a comprehensive agenda for change; a twenty-year plan calling for a twenty-year commitment.

It rejected what it called “the usual strategy – tackling the problems one at a time, tantamount to putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”

Instead, the Report wanted revitalization, putting an end to the staggering human and financial cost of supporting communities unable to manage for themselves.

Within 20 years, it projected, the benefits would be greater than the costs, and from that point on, the benefits would exceed the costs.

The result of the agenda was to be an end to dependence on the institutions and resources of other governments.

The end of this debilitating dependence is something we all profoundly desire.  “Renewal of the relationship must be done with justice and generosity” the Report said.
“History and human decency demand restoration of fair measures of land, resources and power to Aboriginal peoples.

“On those foundations, self-respect and self-reliance will grow steadily firmer in Aboriginal communities. In their absence, anger and despair will grow steadily deeper – with conflict the likely result.
“What we propose is fundamental, sweeping and perhaps disturbing – but also exciting, liberating, ripe with possibilities.”

The ground-breaking report was tabled in 1996, 18 years ago, and almost immediately there were complaints from public and government that the plan would be too costly.

The Royal Bank of Canada commissioned its own analysis and agreed with the Royal Commission that yes, there were heavy costs, but it also warned that if those costs were not met, the costs of doing nothing would be even greater.

That was the title of its report: “The Costs of Doing Nothing”.

The Royal Commission had set it out point-blank: Canada can no longer afford the status quo.

In addition to direct costs, there were also the costs of missed opportunities, lost foregone gains, a future much less than it might otherwise be.

Billions would be lost each year, the analysts said, by the failure of the country to realize the full economic potential of Indigenous people – the acceptance of low labour force participation levels, atrocious unemployment levels, low earnings from the jobs that are held, and low incomes from other forms of wealth creation.

The Royal Commission made the case that in 1996. The cost of the status quo was then $7.5 billion.

It estimated that the status quo cost would escalate to $11 billion by the year 2016. And here we are.

In other words, leaving aside moral, legal, social, and other arguments for change, there were and are financial arguments for doing things differently.

Think of it as an investment.

The Centre for the Study of Living Standards 2009 report demonstrated a savings of $115 billion on just the expense side of the ledger over the next 15 years, if Indigenous youth were to receive the preparation necessary so they can contribute their potential by being a part of Canada’s work force.

The Centre’s report also noted the huge boost to the Canadian economy, which would come from increased investment in Indigenous education: in the same 15-year period there would be an estimated $401 billion cumulative positive effect on Canada’s GDP if the educational and employment gap can be closed for Indigenous youth.

Neither we nor government can ever forget – Indigenous peoples are the fastest growing demographic group in Canada – Statistics Canada says our current 3% of Canada’s population will almost double by 2031.

That can be a warning if nothing else changes.

If we have change, it is a harbinger of opportunity for positive action. Look at the demographics.
40% of the Indigenous peoples’ population in Canada are under age 20 – that’s compared to 24% in the non-Indigenous population.

The median age of the non-Indigenous population is 40. The median First Nation age is 25.

By 2026, in this 21st Century, more than 600,000 Indigenous youth will have been ready to enter the labour market.

But we already know that far, far too many will not be prepared for the jobs which are seeking workers. This would be a personal and national economic tragedy.
There is an incongruity that is part of this equation.

We hear about Canada having to bring in foreign workers to meet labour shortages, and I am sure they will make significant contributions to Canada’s economy.

But this is hard to explain to our youth who have been ready to go to work, but cannot get the necessary training and education for those jobs awaiting workers.

Sometimes when I talk about Indspire, people ask me: what is the use of working hard to get through high school when I won’t be able to go on to training or higher education.

Frankly, I don’t have a good answer.

What I can say is that I firmly believe Canada is ready now to do what the Royal Commission argued for two decades ago:

“make a dramatic sharp break from the patterns of the past, and have the courage and the foresight to establish a new relationship” between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of Canada.”

I remind you of the story of the Gordian Knot.

At one time in ancient Greece there was a place without a king.

A prophet decreed that that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king.

That person was a humble farmer named Gordias, and he was declared king; in gratitude, his son Midas tied the oxcart with a most intricate knot to a tree to serve as a monument of the occasion.

Over time, the oxcart was in an inconvenient position for passing traffic, but no one was able to untie the knot so it could be moved. For centuries.

Along came Alexander the Great, and after failing to untie the knot like everyone else who tried, Alexander just drew his sword and sliced the knot in half.

The oxcart was moved aside. The problem had been solved.
Rather than standing for the problem which cannot be solved, the Gordian Knot stands for taking dramatic fresh approaches to resolve problems which have seemed to be intractable.

And that is what I ask of you tonight, as a country, let’s walk away dealing with the old problems by applying the same concepts that have caused them, walk away from the proposed solutions which over and over have proven they do not work; and simply accept responsibility to change the unacceptable situation which confronts us today.

I see so many of you here who are doing just that. I see great potential here tonight.
I see people who have already made significant changes in their institutions with respect to Indigenous education.

I encourage you to carry on, even to increase your efforts.

I encourage you to mobilize the university sector both provincially and nationally to accept the challenges of making significant change, and buoyed by your successes there, I encourage you to use your considerable prestige and authority to convince Canadians to make change locally, regionally, nationally.

Dr. Paul Davidson, the President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, wrote an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star, headlined: “Canada’s potential is inseparable from Aboriginal potential.”

That is a reality many Canadians have not grasped, but it can become a powerful motivating factor.

And while I am mentioning Dr. Davidson, I call to your attention to the report of the National Working Summit on Aboriginal Post-secondary Education which Indspire, the organization of which I am CEO and President, held with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

It’s called “Moving Forward” and it has lots of ideas, and we look forward to hearing of your own initiatives.

It makes the point: where there is success, reward it.

Where there is a best practice, encourage it to be replicated wherever appropriate.

Indspire, the charitable foundation of which I am privileged to be CEO and President, welcomes you as its partners in the realization of the rich potential of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis youth.

We know that without dramatic improvement Indspire assists Indigenous students – First Nation, Inuit, Metis – to realize their immense potential to achieve for their own well-being and that of their families, communities, their nations, Canada and the world.

Indspire works hard to get students through high school, to get them into colleges, universities, training, and helping them to remain there until they succeed.

Indspire also has an Institute which is involved in the transformation of Indigenous education into a culturally-appropriate community-driven engine using innovative best practices in the classroom.

This is the only way we will ever convert our huge potential to be a part of the Canada of the future into the dramatic results of which we are capable.

Through our bursaries, Indspire Awards, and the Institute, Indspire is increasing the corps of potential change agents – over the years our bursaries have totalled over $65 million.

There have been 20,000 bursaries awarded. Last year, this included more than 161 students studying medicine, 230 nursing, 167 pursuing business and commerce degrees, 264 lawyers, 261 studying in the field of education.

In Ontario alone in the last fiscal year, we provided over $3 million in bursaries to 926 students.

We know the students we support want to give back. Our children and youth are potential change agents.

This adds up to a new kind of philanthropy, one which gives back, one which not only meets today’s needs, but also is going upstream to reduce the need.

We are not interested in perpetuating the need for charity, but rather are taking acting to restore the capacity for self-sufficiency so that communities have the resources so their children and youth really can realize their potentials.

We know from a recent survey we did of the students who receive bursaries that over 90% of them graduate…90%!

We know that over 82% of them are employed, and the vast majority have jobs directly serving Indigenous peoples and communities.

If our current generation is supported so they can become achievers, they will change their circumstances, their families, their communities.

The entire country will be enriched.

Our problem is that we have enough funding only to support 26% of the applicants…

The federal government recently committed $10 million new dollars on the condition that Indspire raise matching funds from the private sector – and I am thrilled to say that we are at the $6.3 million mark and counting.

I am also very happy to say that we are in discussions with the Ontario Government to secure their commitment to invest in our shared future with a contribution to this historic initiative.

The response we have received tells me that Canadians do care, that they want to be part of successful initiatives that tell a positive story about Canadian/Indigenous relationships.

They are saying they want to turn the page and look to the future.

I hope these words this evening have sharpened your view of the vision we can seek together. I hope the message has given you inspiration for redoubling of your efforts.

I share with you a gift from the past which I find so useful in focusing my own energies.

The Mohawks of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory are instructed that in living our lives and making our decisions for the future, we must focus our attention not on ourselves, not on our children, or even our grandchildren, but rather on the Seventh Generation − those yet to be born, children whose faces are still coming towards us.

The Seventh Generation are our great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren.

The Seventh Generation is not a figurative abstraction: it consists of real human beings not yet born — the people who will call us “their ancestors.”

It is always a humbling wake-up call for me when I stop for a moment to think of myself as being an ancestor to children not yet born.

Our future generations have every right to expect that we will take up the responsibility of putting our minds together to improve the lives of our children.

The opportunity to live a life focused on the Seventh Generation has been a powerful force in my own life.

I commend it to you for your own consideration.

This focus has taught me that I have both the opportunity and responsibility to create change.

It has taught me that I do not live alone in this world: we walk with our past, our present, and our common future.

It has taught me to seek a longer view whenever I have felt the push of impatience or the immobilization of despair.

If we think of the Seventh Generation, we will be pushed to go beyond the mark, to go in new directions, to find opportunities that don’t appear when we are thinking of the short term.

Three years from now, Canada will be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Confederation.

What a marvelous gift we can leave our future generations if by then we will be able to say “In Canada, all Indigenous children receive an education which helps them to fulfill their potential so that they may make their full contribution to their people, their nation, to Canada, and to the world.”

How much nicer it will be to sing “O Canada” with that goal in our hearts and minds. 2017.
In our own lifetimes.

Thank you for listening to my words.

Thank you for offering me the challenge implied with the David C. Smith Award. Together we can do what needs to be done.
In our own lifetimes.

Together we can do what needs to be done.



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