The Lheidli T’enneh Nation and University of Northern British Columbia have announced a new partnership that will support students gain access to post-secondary education, a direct and meaningful response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.
The partnership is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
The agreement provides two options for members of Lheidli T’enneh Nation to attend UNBC at no cost.
The first program, called the Lheidli T’enneh Northern Promise Partnership Program, provides candidates who meet UNBC admission requirements with the funding they need to achieve an undergraduate degree at UNBC.
The University provides full-tuition support for a full undergraduate degree, and the Lheidli T’enneh Nation will cover funding to support student needs such as living expenses, including housing, food, and transportation, fees (other than tuition), textbooks, and tutoring.
"Our role in this partnership is to put more funds into the housing and just the costs of going to school, to put a roof over their heads, make sure they are not struggling so they can focus on their studies," said Chief Clay Pountney at the signing of the agreement at the Lheidli T'enneh Band Office in Shelley this morning (Oct. 2).
"We are finding that our membership is below average so we want to shoot for the stars and get us above average and that is all the way from kindergarten to post-secondary."
He noted that Lheidli T'enneh currently has two students enrolled in UNBC, and about 68 students in School District No. 57 (SD57) but this partnership has the potential to impact many more students to come.
The second program in the agreement, called The Lheidli T’enneh Northern Promise Partnership Transition Program, is available to Lheidli T’enneh identified students who do not meet the normal admission requirements for UNBC entrance, yet demonstrate strong academic promise, or wish a transition experience from high school or college to University.
"The relationship we have with UNBC now - it’s not just strengthened. We know each other very well now," added Pountney. "We have got to know a lot of their leadership at UNBC and it’s just great."
UNBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Daniel J. Weeks. said this partnership again solidifies UNBC as a leader in accessibility for First Nations students.
"Post-secondary attainment in Canada for First Nation students is abysmally low," said Weeks. "Today we are going to start with a major barrier and that is the financial cost of post-secondary education for First Nations students."
He explained that the university is essentially forgoing the cost of the tuition, which can be anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 dollars depending on which programs and classes students take.
"My hope is that this program is so widely successful that we do feel pressure in those areas and that we will have to find additional resources because we have so many students that want to come and join us."
While Lhedili T'enneh does get a small amount of support from the federal government for post-secondary education it's not enough to cover all costs, and Pountney noted the deadline process in the application process makes it difficult for the nation to obtain.
"It’s not enough to cover all of the costs, so by us removing this part of the barrier they can use those funds in a much more effective way for their students," explained Weeks.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission made numerous calls to action regarding education. While the calls recommended the federal government take action, the Lheidli T’enneh Nation and UNBC are addressing the calls’ spirit.
The partnership intends to eliminate educational gaps between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, providing funding to close identified educational achievement gaps, improving attainment levels and success rates, and enabling community responsibility.
Weeks said he will be meeting with leadership from universities around Canada and intends to ask them to take up similar partnerships.
"I’ll be asking them to join us and let’s move this reconciliation agenda forward in a really meaningful way."
Lheildi students interested in learning more about accessing these programs should contact the Lhedili T'enneh Band Office to discuss eligibility.