Given how excited people are these days about using international experience in higher education, it’s odd how little attention has been paid to the different models of indigenous higher education (globally, the term “indigenous” is preferred to “Aboriginal”). So, here goes:
There are basically three strategies in terms of promoting indigenous higher education. You can give a helping hand to individual indigenous students, financially or otherwise. You can give mainstream institutions a makeover so as to be more accommodating of indigenous culture. Or you can create new indigenously-controlled institutions.
The first model is the dominant one in Canada – in addition to dedicated financial support programs like PSSSP, there has come to be a “standard model” of institutional supports, as well. Australia has put more emphasis on the financial side, with its Austudy program. New Zealand is less generous financially, but does provide dedicated services in its universities, similar to Canada. In the U.S., this model is rare, though it does exist in places like the University of Alaska.
The second model is tough to execute because of the degree of cultural change involved. However, it does happen in Canada, at least where Aboriginal populations are relatively large: the use of Aboriginal cultural systems like Laurentian’s teepee or UVic’s First Nations House, the concentrations of Aboriginal scholars in Manitoba and Saskatchewan universities, etc. It’s rare in the United States, though Hawai’i-Manoa is an honourable exception. Australia appears to be somewhere between the United States and Canada. New Zealand is considerably more advanced than Canada.
The third model is perhaps the most interesting: separate, indigenously-controlled institutions. The U.S. and New Zealand are the most enthusiastic here: the former has a large network of Tribal Colleges, and the latter has a trio of “wanangas” – technical institutes which also offer a few degree programs. Australia has a single institute – the Batchelor Institute in Alice Springs.
In Canada, we’re a bit schizo on this. We do have publicly-funded, Aboriginally-controlled institutions in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. In the rest of the country what we have is a scattering of Aboriginal institutes, which are patchily funded and which are often little more than program brokers for other institutions offering distance programs. Large parts of the country – notably Ontario – are without a proper Aboriginally-controlled institution. That’s not all down to unsympathetic policymakers; in Ontario in particular, regional politics among First Nations have been a major factor preventing a single institution emerging as a potential FNUC-equivalent.
But it wouldn’t hurt to start sketching out the conditions – presumably rather strict ones – under which some of our Aboriginal institutes might “graduate” to becoming publicly funded institutions. There are models all over the world of successful indigenously-controlled institutions; there’s no reason Canada couldn’t benefit from more of them, too.