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Renewing Canada’s IES - Thematic papers: Indigenous participation

Published on March 1, 2023


Truth and Reconciliation has become an important part of the Government of Canada’s agenda over the last several years. The process has helped bring to light the systemic injustices experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the need for a greater commitment to reconciliation. As a result, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to improve the quality of life of Indigenous peoples and to promote their economic and social well-being. While the 2019 Strategy opened up access to outbound mobility for Canadian Indigenous students through the ESDC-led Global Student Opportunities program, a number of other elements were left unexplored. Given the importance of this issue, this paper explores how best to integrate broader support for Indigenous students, as well as promoting Indigenous programs internationally in the next iteration of the International Education Strategy.  

By providing Indigenous students with increased access to international education and creating more inclusive learning environments for Indigenous students from other countries, the Government of Canada can help to build a more equitable and inclusive society. This would also help foster a deeper understanding of Indigenous cultures and perspectives, which will be essential for successful reconciliation efforts in the future. 

Current trends 

In the 2019 IES, Indigenous students were provided greater access to international education through ESDC’s pilot outbound mobility program (Global Skills Opportunity Program). 

In 2020, the proportion of Indigenous students in post-secondary education in Canada was 8.6%, an increase of 38.7% in 10 years. The exact number of Canadian Indigenous students studying abroad is not known, as comprehensive data on the subject is not available. However, according to a 2020 report by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, approximately 1000 Indigenous students were studying abroad in the 2018-19 academic year out of an estimated 58,000 (1.7%). Understanding the unique challenges facing Indigenous students’ participation in international education is important as we move forward in a spirit of reconciliation. 

Some of Canada’s competitor countries have been looking at ways to integrate support for Indigenous students in their international education strategies.

For example, New Zealand in their international education strategy details their focus on outbound participation of Maori, as well as providing incoming international students exposure to Maori culture. NZ is working with the Maori to understand their aspirations for international education, as well as initiatives they consider high-value. 

Supporting Indigenous education through the International Education Strategy 

The federal government is committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, truth, co-operation, and partnership. Global Affairs Canada’s Action Plan on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples – 2021-2025 provides a foundation and guiding framework for Global Affairs Canada’s efforts to make progress towards this vision over the next 4 years. It builds on previous departmental initiatives that have paved the way towards greater engagement with Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world. 

As a first step in shaping the framework of Indigenous participation in the next iteration of the strategy, GAC commits to undertaking, a series of extensive consultations with Indigenous Services Canada, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous organizations, and institutions providing Indigenous programming.  

This consultation plan will be developed in collaboration with Indigenous Services Canada and the provinces and territories. It will likely span the first year of the Strategy, subsequent to which the framework will be developed, finalized and implemented.  

The Framework could include Indigenous student exchange programs, which Global Affairs Canada is well-positioned to facilitate through its global presence and promotion of cross-cultural exchange programs for Indigenous students in Canada and those in partner countries around the world. Included as part of this could be programs or incentives specific to attracting Indigenous students from abroad to study in Canadian institutions primarily focused on Indigenous education. 

Additionally, Canadian institutions are world leaders in the field of Indigenous led programming and programs centered on Indigenous culture. These present an opportunity for export to other countries interested in learning more about this topic, or in developing their own similar programming for their Indigenous peoples.  


  • Are there particular institutions that should be consulted on this issue?
  • What support is currently being offered to support Indigenous students wishing to partake in international exchanges?
  • What other aspects of international education related to Indigenous participation could be envisaged?
  • What unique challenges hinder access to international education for Indigenous students or access to Indigenous programming for international students?
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