"With Indian treaties, it is important to separate rhetoric from reality. A case in point is the federal government’s recent trial balloon to turn post-secondary grants for First Nation students into repayable loans. In other words, indigenous students would go through a student loan system administered by the provinces just like everyone else.
Predictably, First Nation students and leaders are upset at the proposed change; they argue they have a “treaty right” to free post-secondary education. “Why should you pay back a loan for something that is a right?” said Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donovan Fontaine recently in the Winnipeg Free Press.
Treaties are lawful agreements signed between an Indian tribe and the Crown, so they should be honoured. However, the treaties should not be liberally interpreted with historic revisionism to include entitlements never envisioned. For example, while the numbered treaties signed by tribes across the Prairies with the Crown mention education, this refers to educational services on reserves and likely was intended to mean lower education.
Treaty 9, which is explicit on this point, states that the government’s obligation was to provide for “such salaries of teachers to instruct the children of said Indians.”
Such a reading leaves the clear impression that such a provision is for elementary and perhaps secondary education. It’s a stretch to suppose they were meant to be read as providing for free post-secondary funding"
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Joseph Quesnel: Free post-secondary education is not a treaty entitlement