Despite the data limitations of research, a great deal of research has been undertaken to examine and try to understand the circumstances, issues, barriers, and challenges Aboriginal learners face in post-secondary education. Research in the past decade has primarily been deficit based, and unfortunately, the vast majority of researchers have not been Aboriginal. These barriers and challenges have been unanimously agreed upon (see Table 4).
Lack of awareness of Aboriginal culture with faculty and staff that can mitigate racism.
Compiled from ACCC (2005), Battiste and McLean (2005), Human Capital Strategies (2005), Katenies Research and Chignecto Consulting (2006), Malatest (2002, 2004), and Mixon (2008a).
Perhaps one of the most prevalent themes identified as barriers for Aboriginal people’s participation in higher learning is financial. Indeed, Aboriginal peoples in Canada are a marginalized population with severe barriers to access education. According to Malatest (2002),
significant barriers exist with respect to Aboriginal participation in postsecondary education, including: a legacy of distrust in the Aboriginal community of the education system due to residential schools and other historic practices seen as having a negative and assimilative effect on Aboriginal communities; lack of preparation for university or College at the secondary education level; feelings of social discrimination, isolation, and loneliness at postsecondary institutions; unemployment and poverty in Aboriginal communities, which can make the financial obligations of postsecondary education difficult to meet; a lack of respect for Aboriginal cultural and cultural differences at the postsecondary level; significant family demands that act as financial and time restraints to postsecondary education. (p. 1)
These barriers are compounded by: (a) the freezing of funding since 1996 by INAC (First Nations Education Council, 2008, p. 9); (b) increased education costs that have risen 74% for the typical undergraduate program since 2002 (First Nations Education Steering Committee, 2008, p. 5); and (c) the population growth rate of Aboriginal peoples participating in post-secondary, making funding an increasingly significant barrier to Aboriginal student participation (ALMD, 2010a, p. 4)
From the respondents of the VCC 2009 Aboriginal Learners Survey (Dipuma, 2009), financial barriers were evident, with the majority (64.6%) of learners not receiving any financial support to attend post-secondary, and of those who did, 52.9% reported having challenges obtaining support (p. 34). Funding was also one of the key components outlined in the AFN (1972) Indian Control of Indian Education policy and remains a key issue for the AFN (2010b) as a fiduciary responsibility of the Federal Government as articulated within treaties. Funding was also cited by 50% of non-status and Métis students as one of the top reasons for not finishing post-secondary studies (ACCC, 2005, p. 8). These statistics underline the fact that the majority of Aboriginal families do not have adequate employment incomes to provide funds for themselves or their children to attend post-secondary education institutions (Williams, 2008).