In operation since 1985, the First Nations Technical Institute is the oldest Aboriginal educational institution of its kind in Ontario. With over 2,000 graduates, the school has around 320 current students in addition to its secondary school and after-school programs. Ninety per cent of FNTI grads find work and the institute hopes to continue its success for another 22 years. That is, unless it goes broke first.
On April 1, the provincial government announced that it would bestow a one-time payment of $1.5 million so the FNTI can stay open. The school was in danger of closing due to cuts in federal funding.
The federal and provincial governments have been quarreling over jurisdiction for some time. From the province’s point of view, the feds should fund FNTI because it is an Aboriginal institution. The feds counter that the province is responsible for postsecondary education.
FNTI was consistently funded by the federal government until 2004, with an annual budget of $2.7 million. The amount has now decreased to $531,687 for the 2008 academic year, not enough to keep the institute afl oat. The province’s money will keep the FNTI open for another year.
“For more than twenty years, the First Nations Technical Institute has helped Aboriginal people from this community and across the province find success through postsecondary education,” said MPP Leona Dombrowsky (Prince Edward-Hastings). “I am pleased that we are able to strengthen the partnership with the institute.”
FNTI is currently asking for $2.5 million per year with 2 per cent cost-of-living increases to make up for infl ation, a lesser amount than their 2004 funding and, supporters point out, in the context of a current federal surplus estimated at $2 billion.
“To say that this is a burden on another level of government is way off the mark, we’re talking about a small amount of money,” said Ken Marciniec, communications coordinator of Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.
The funding crisis has FNTI’s students in quite a bind. How do you plan for graduation when your school might be gone before that happens? “It was a ridiculous situation for our students to be in, taking two-, three- and four-year programs and not sure if they were going to finish,” said Karihwakeron Tim Thompson, president and CAO of FNTI. “It’s pleasing that the province is
taking a constructive approach to intervene on behalf of our students for this year, we’re very encouraged by that,” Thompson said. But the reprieve, he knows, is only temporary. “FNTI’s hope is that a longer-term solution makes itself available long before Christmas break. We can’t be put in the same situation come the end of March next year.”