Chisasibi’s Elizabeth Rednose is disillusioned with the Cree School Board and what she refers to as “1981 funding levels” for students. She says financial restraints imposed on her as a 41-year-old post secondary student don’t reflect the current cost of living.
Rednose will graduate this spring and hopes to find a job as an occupational therapist in Chisasibi. But right now, she says she is falling into a financial hole as student support funds don’t pay the bills of a modern lifestyle.
“I barely have enough by the final week of the month,” she complained. “I don’t have any money.”
Rednose is not alone.
“I do know that the majority of students aren’t happy with the funding they are getting, but we’re bound by an agreement with the MEQ and that’s what we can provide right now,” said Eva Louttit, Director of Post Secondary Education.
“We have a set amount for each student whether they are single or have dependants, and depending on the number of dependants they have,” added Louttit, who would not reveal the amounts.
Louttit did mention, however, that the CSB has been discussing increases in financial support for students and it may happen as early as next year.
That won’t be soon enough for Rednose, who has tried to better her education several times.
Rednose attended business college in Ottawa in the 1980s, moving on to a position as administrative technician with the Cree Health Board. Then in 1992 her nephew committed suicide and she became very depressed.
“I had to quit my job because he committed suicide in my basement,” Rednose said. “He shot himself twice while I was sleeping. It happened at
one in the morning. I didn’t know what was going on until I saw a hole in my floor. The second shot came through the floor and if I had moved another inch I would have been gone. At that point I was depressed.”
Rednose told the Nation that she went back to college twice between 1981 and 2003. She quit at her second attempt in 2001 because of her inability to cope with school and her father’s death at the same time.
She has since moved beyond those days of gloom and depression. “Right now I’m trying to learn something different than working in an office. While I was working for the Cree Health Board in the Human Resources Department, it really surprised me the different kind of jobs the CHB has to offer.”
That’s when she found out that the money given to students doesn’t reflect today’s standards of living.
“The amount of money given by the Cree School Board hasn’t changed much since I went to college in 1981,” she said, frustrated that after rent, food, and other expenses, she’s often left with nothing even before the month is over.
“For this month I’m frustrated because I had to pay out of my own pocket $500 for glasses.” She also added that she’d be reimbursed for the frames by the CHB, but only to the tune of $65.
“If you get glasses that are more fashionable and more expensive, you pay the difference, but it should be more than $65,” said Helen Atkinson of the CHB. “When I went for mine I got back more than $200. But it depends on the prescription.”
Rednose said for whatever reason, that wasn’t the case. She was advised through a letter from the CHB that she’d be getting back $65. She even bought cheaper frames so it’d cost less.
At one point she had to borrow money from the CSB to pay her previous month’s rent. They’re still deducting $100 from her cheque to recoup that cost.
“Ever since the non-insured health benefits program at the Cree Health Board came into effect, we have to pay from our own pockets our medication and medical examinations and then we get reimbursed by the CHB and it takes forever,” said Rednose.
The solution is simple, she says. “The Cree School Board should change their rates, and students shouldn’t have to pay up front for their medical expenses.”