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By Caroline Yoshida-Butryn

Ryerson’s partnership program with the First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) is on the brink of shutting down if the federal government follows up on proposed budget cuts.

Ryerson has offered a Bachelor of Social Work program in partnership with FNTI, the longest running Aboriginal post-secondary institution in Ontario, since 2004.

According to FNTI President Tim Thompson, the school’s funding from the federal government will be cut by 66 per cent by April 1, threatening not only the social work program but the survival of the school itself.

“We’re waiting for someone to come to their senses,” he said. “I’m kind of at a loss for what we need to do.”

While President Sheldon Levy supports the program, he doesn’t want to step in to finance what he says is the federal government’s responsibility.

“We can’t be the funders of a program that is funded by the federal government,” he said. “You can’t ask students who are being funded through their tuition and government grants to give up some of their money.”

Monica McKay, co-ordinator of Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services and member of the partnership’s Program Management Committee, said funding is an ongoing issue.

“Aboriginal post-secondary institutions aren’t given the same consideration as other colleges and universities,” she said.

The second cohort of Aboriginal students in the social work program is expected to graduate on schedule in 2009.

But the third cohort, scheduled to start the program later this month, may not receive any funding, Levy said.

“The risk is whether or not we can afford to take in another cohort of students for the program,” he said.

Ben Carniol, program director of the FNTI-Ryerson partnership, said the program is valuable for social workers to understand the historical and social context of problems that affect the Aboriginal community.

“Some workers who come from outside the community come in and do their job with very little sense of the culture and people they’re working with,” he said.

“Our social work grads can be a major contributor to turning things around.” Jeanne Hebert was among the program’s first graduates last June and said she would not have received the same education from a mainstream social work program.

“I’m 55 years-old and I waited for a program like this to come around,” she said. “I’ve become very empowered to help our people from the grassroots up.”

Hebert now works as a program manager at Mohawk Family Services in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Thompson said the school has been caught in bureaucratic red tape since 2004, when the federal government told them they could not maintain multi-year funding agreements with a non-government entity.

“The federal government says we’re a provincial problem and the provincial government says we’re a federal problem,” he said. “We’re not able to get answers.”

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