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A youth walks past a boarded-up house in the Attawapiskat First Nation. He is part of the country's fastest growing demographic.
COMMENTARY · 2nd January 2012
Paul Davidson
As Canadians come to better understand the depth and complexity of the crisis in many of Canada’s aboriginal communities, lasting solutions to long-standing problems may seem out of reach.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. A big part of those elusive solutions lies in doing a better job of listening to those who, arguably, have the most vested in finding the answers: Aboriginal youth.

Last month, aboriginal students from across Canada participated in an online dialogue on post-secondary education. Streamed live from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, they shared their dreams for the future and thoughts on university with educators and leaders from universities and aboriginal communities across Canada. Hosted by the Assembly of First Nations and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, this open and frank discussion addressed barriers to further education, the desire of aboriginal educators and students to help build a brighter future for their people, and the urgent need for all partners to work together to make it happen. These students showed themselves to be young people with ambition, vision and a wealth of good ideas. They need and deserve continued engagement in the dialogue about the future of their communities, and a real commitment to change.

Aboriginal youth is the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population. There are almost half a million aboriginal people under the age of 20, yet their university attainment is just one-third the national average. The education gap in this country is large and growing, a trend that must be reversed.

Contrary to popular belief, aboriginal students are not guaranteed funding to attend post-secondary institutions. In fact, many do not continue their education after high school because of the lack of financial resources and other supports. And the sad state of K-12 on-reserve education denies many aboriginal youth the opportunity even to get to that point.

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