Foundation to spend $23 million to improve post-secondary education for Indigenous students
- NC Raine | September 24, 2021
The Mastercard Foundation will provide $23 million over five years to improve the post-secondary education experience of Indigenous students in Saskatchewan.
It has created the Oẏateki Partnership to transform the educational experience of 32,000 Indigenous youth, who have talked about how challenging it is to navigate educational opportunities, access scholarships and supports and, “put together a program that makes sense for a young person,” said Jennifer Brennan, Head of Canada Programs for the Mastercard Foundation.
“They've really challenged us to be bold and put out that really high target,” she said.
The Oẏateki Partnership, which means “all people together and leave no people behind,” brings together the University of Saskatchewan (Usask), Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) and Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI).
The Foundation’s desire to impact the lives of Indigenous young people is a response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Brennan said.
They hope to transform post-secondary education from a place where Indigenous youth leave their families, homes and communities and struggle to integrate into a colonial system, she said.
Instead, it will support transitions to post-secondary education, increase positive academic outcomes and support transitions from post-secondary to careers.
“Gone are the days when you just check into a university for four years and you have to figure out the rest on your own. We really see the three institutions becoming a lot more responsive for what the Indigenous youth expect and need,” said Brennan.
“Through the discussions and through the partnership, we know there will be Indigenous youth's voices helping to steer what those projects are,” said Tavia Laliberte, Vice-President of Academics at SIIT. “Communities need to be very involved in ensuring the projects supported under this initiative meet the needs and make sense and have buy-in from the communities,”
Some of the first developments from the partnership will be new mentorship and transition programs, new mental health and cultural supports and new co-created programs at the community level, driven by Indigenous youth, Brennan said.
“It's not about there being a singular answer, it's about how we support the journeys of Indigenous youth, and how do we support these institutions to strengthen the work they are doing,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous people make up 16 percent of the Saskatchewan population but have 10 per cent higher unemployment than non-Indigenous people, and are less likely to pursue post-secondary education.
The project is looking for a managing director who shares a vision of what the Partnership could be, Laliberte said.
She believes the scope of the partnership and the strengths each institution brings can lead to significant changes in the Saskatchewan educational system.
“This unique opportunity gives us the chance to think big… about those systems, challenge the systems… and ask why we do processes that way,” said Laliberte.
SIIT will take something of a stewardship role in the partnership, recording the activities and doing financial reporting to the Mastercard Foundation, Laliberte said.
Laliberte says she hopes the ambitious partnership will positively impact the way post-secondary education is delivered in the future all over Canada.