CORNWALL, Ontario - A university campus in Cornwall would help Akwesasne - a major player in the region's quest to land a post-secondary institution - send more students to school.
Peter Garrow, the Akwesasne Native Trustee with the Upper Canada District School Board and former Director of Education with the Assembly of First Nations, said in an interview said his community has been grappling with budget issues for years.
"There's a myth that we get a free ride when it comes to post-secondary education," he said. "That's not the case. Our funding from the federal government has been capped."
Since 1998 the funding envelope to send Akwesasne students to school has been limited to a two per cent increase every year. Right now about $2 million a year is spent sending students to school.
"Much of that is used on room and board," said Garrow, suggesting as much as two-thirds covers things like travel costs and residence. "If we had a university campus in Cornwall, we could afford to send more students."
Garrow estimates as many as 500 Akwesasne students apply for college/university schooling each year - but only 400 are selected because of the financial pinch.
"We have a waiting list every year," he said. "A university campus in Cornwall would be right in our proximity."
Akwesasne has become a major partner in a steering committee made up of 30 local stakeholders looking to woo the provincial government into funding a university campus at the Nav Centre in Cornwall.
A decision is expected to be made in September about just where the money will flow.
The local steering committee is in talks with two Ontario universities about establishing a campus in Cornwall.
Steering committee leader Gerry Benson said in an interview Akwesasne brings with it a pool of potential students, and some serious political clout.
"Nobody will say no to them," said Benson. "We need their help. They're the most important (asset) in our quest for a university."
Benson said Akwesasne leadership is already spreading the word about the potential for a Cornwall university campus. Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, recently toured the Nav Centre and was impressed with what he saw.
Benson said the hope is to start the campus with about 400 students, with programming tailored to specific fields of study.
The list of students would grow to be measured in the thousands as years progressed, he added.