A Systems Guide to Research Council Funding in Canada: Report Summary

“As Indigenous researchers with strong connections to their communities, II faculty understand the needs and priorities of Indigenous peoples, and can develop research projects to deliver direct benefits to their communities. As the connection point between the Traditional Knowledge Keepers and prospective knowledge users, IIs are perfectly placed to engage in research and knowledge mobilization while respecting and protecting the roots and cultural importance of that very knowledge.”

Each Indigenous Institute (II) plays a distinct role in conducting research. IIs are uniquely positioned, as Indigenous owned and operated institutions, to conduct research that responds to and prioritizes the needs and interests of their communities.

Most of the funding to support research programs is provided by the Government of Canada and three Research Councils (RCs). Funds are allocated through a highly competitive process, with demanding barriers to eligibility and entry. This process positions institutions against each other, leaving smaller institutions, like IIs, disadvantaged due to less capacity or resources. All Research Councils (RCs) have publicly committed to providing a more inclusive and respectful research environment for Indigenous participation. Considering these changes, the Systems Guide to Research Council Funding in Canada aims to support IIs in navigating the federal research system, the RCs, their funding programs, and their recent efforts to support Indigenous Research capacity.

The three RCs and the Canada Research Coordination Committee have recently published a new strategic plan for building the capacity of Indigenous Research, prompting engagement and policy changes. They have taken some actions towards advancing this plan such as opening Institutional eligibility to Indigenous non-profit organizations and convening Indigenous leadership circles and advisory panels to provide input as they review their policies. This presents a prime opportunity for the Indigenous Institute Consortium (IIC) and its member IIs to engage with the RCs and work towards securing the distinct, but equal role, of Indigenous Institutes in the research system.

IIC Student Success & E-Learning During COVID-19

The imposed restrictions of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have affected the delivery of post-secondary education at Ontario’s Indigenous Institutes and impacted the success of Indigenous learners. To better understand how Indigenous learners are being impacted and how Indigenous Institutes are adapting the IIC conducted a survey of learners and instructors at Indigenous Institutes, and have developed a unique toolkit of wellness resources for use amongst all of the Indigenous Institutes and their learners.

In its 2020 report, the IIC outlined the importance of a wraparound support philosophy which considers that student success does not stop with academic achievement, but includes factors such as home environments, technological barriers or challenges, financial security, mental health and wellbeing of individual students. Through the surveys and interviews conducted in 2020 and 2021, the IIC uncovered where students and staff are thriving in online learning and where more support is needed.

Some of the highlights from the report include:

An overview of student requests for services from Indigenous Institutes and how these are being met.

Figure 8: Students’ Requests for Services Post COVID-19 Transition

An analysis of student’s difficulties and needs associated with online learning.

Figure 3: Students’ Difficulties with Online Learning

An analysis of four key barriers to online learning for students and staff at Indigenous Institutes.

Following an analysis of is findings, the IIC proposes three pathways for improving the success of online learning.

Online learning will remain a core part of post-secondary education, and it has always been a component at Indigenous Institutes. As the IIC and its members for the future of Indigenous post-secondary education, this report offers insights into how Indigenous Institutes, and all education institutions, can deliver a holistic approach to online education that supports Indigenous learners.

For more information on this report please contact

Framework & Virtual Learning Strategy Foundations

The Indigenous Institutes Consortium and its members have always prioritized course development that responds to the needs of community members so that they can gain the skills and credentials required to secure employment. An alternative form of skills development, microcredentials are becoming increasingly important in Ontario’s shifting employment landscape because they are vital to the economic recovery of the Province and country. They demonstrate that individuals have acquired specific skillsets that are required in the workplace and that there are individuals who require quick upskilling to be competitive in the evolving workforce. Recently both Indigenous Institutes and the Ontario government have realized the need to invest in microcredentials to improve the employability of residents, and particularly Indigenous learners. With increased funding through eCampusOntario for virtual learning and microcredentials, Six Nations Polytechnic conducted research on how this new type of learning could be developed and applied at Indigenous Institutes.

In this report, Six Nations Polytechnic provides an overview of the current microcredential landscape in Ontario, explores how it needs to evolve so that Indigenous Institutes can actively take part and assesses how virtual learning impacts the delivery and educational experience of this new certification. Following its analysis of the landscape, the report sets out nine recommendations to help Indigenous Institutes and their funders support and administer microcredentialling programs.

Nine Recommendations for Developing Microcredentials at Ontario’s Indigenous Institutes

  1. Leverage drivers & benefits of e-learning.
  2. Address the interaction of barriers to technological access, asset availability, and digital literacy.
  3. Revisit (and revise) teaching staff engagement, training, and support strategies .
  4. Augment organizational resources for e-learning.
  5. Invest – strongly – in educational design.
  6. Develop robust e-learning assessment strategies.
  7. Explore entrepreneurial approaches.
  8. Lay the regulatory foundations.
  9. Advocate for true inclusivity in e-learning frameworks and policy making.

Following this research, Six Nations Polytechnic and several other Indigenous Institutes went on to successfully earn funding from eCampusOntario to further develop microcredential, virtual learning and hyflex learning opportunities.

For more information on this report please contact

IIC Programs & Services

Designed specifically for Indigenous learners, Indigenous Institutes are well positioned to offer programs and services that connect to Indigenous learners and meet their unique needs in a culturally appropriate setting. Institutes are the natural choice for Indigenous learners but need to be resourced at the same level as colleges and universities to continue to meet the growing needs of Indigenous learners.

Indigenous Institutes are unique because their foundation is built on the language, culture, and traditions of the communities and learners they serve. Institutes put Indigenous learners and community first, and build on the strength of who they are. When you compare the three pillars of post-secondary education in Ontario; colleges, universities, and Indigenous Institutes, it is plain to see the differences in resourcing. Indigenous Institutes are unique in mandate and purpose as displayed in the following chart:

Purposes of Each Post-Secondary Pillar

Indigenous Institutes CollegesUniversities

  • Provide Indigenous-centred education, framed by Indigenous knowledge systems, to meet the educational ambitions of Indigenous communities and learners

  • Success means furthering Indigenous self-determination

  • System is rooted in the continuity and enhancement of Indigenous ways of knowing and living

  • Provide career-oriented education that results in employment

  • Success means students are prepared for the job market

  • System is rooted in labour market needs

  • System is rooted in labour market needs

  • Success means learners and faculty members can freely pursue the gaining and creation of knowledge

  • System is rooted in western epistemologies

Throughout the interviews for this report, Members described the learning experience at their Institutes. Their programs keep learners connected to the land and to First Nations communities, fostering a wholistic approach centred on Indigenous identity that help students thrive in an environment in which they are welcomed and comfortable. Most importantly, each Institute has developed its own educational delivery style that correspond to the realities of their learners. An example of this is land-based learning.

The success story of Indigenous Institutes shows through in this report in spite of limited resources. The data is evidence that their students are succeeding in post-secondary education and successfully going-on to employment and being contributing members in their communities.


This report identifies gaps. We believe the solutions to these gaps can come from collaborative dialogue based on the shared intention to support Indigenous communities and Indigenous learners through the ongoing growth and capacity development of the Member Institutes.

IIC Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023

After some 25 years of ongoing advocacy, the Indigenous Institutes received recognition through the 2017 Indigenous Institutes Act. This Act provides the legal structure for Indigenous Institutes to offer their own accredited post-secondary education. The IIC Secretariat works with its seven Member Institutes to advocate and collaborate on issues impacting post-secondary matters. The Indigenous education sector continues to build its viable and sustainable Third Pillar through its ongoing growth and capacity. The Member Institutes work collectively and collaboratively through the IIC.

Our new Strategic Plan identifies the IIC’s key goals, objectives, and outcomes over the next three years. The IIC’S shared vision, mission, and values are based on the Seven Grandfather teachings. The teachings keep us grounded in First Nations knowledge and align our work with the needs of our communities.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings provide a solid foundation for our core values:

We have identified four goals in our effort to enhance the capacity of Indigenous Institutes, including:

You will gain insight into the Indigenous post-secondary education sector and its focus, through our strategic plan. Our shared values make it clear what the path forward is for the next three years – making Indigenous Institutes the first choice for Indigenous learners.

IIC Partnership Guidelines: Setting the Foundations for Strong Partnerships

The Partnership Guidelines identify how potential partners can work with Indigenous Institutes. The guidelines focus on honesty, integrity, and mutual benefits, all of which are key to a successful partnership. We know and understand that partnerships have the ability to build and enhance resources and capacity for learners and further lead to the advancement of Indigenous self-determination.

Our Guidelines identify:

  • the core principles and characteristics that guide good partnerships;
  • policy recommendations;
  • templates to help develop beneficial partnerships; and
  • a discussion guide to facilitate partnership negotiations.

Our Partnership Principles

We heard strong consensus from Indigenous Institutes on the principles and characteristics that guide good partnerships. Those principals and characteristics can be broadly summarized as:

Self-determination of Indigenous Peoples over post-secondary education
Equality with our partners on needs and interests
Mutual benefit for all parties
Transparency in how we work together
Capital allocations that respect and maximize the use of our resources
Respect for the uniqueness of Indigenous cultures and the needs of Indigenous learners
Proactive management to foster a healthy relationship and manage issues together

Primary Partnership Drivers for Indigenous Institutes

Existing partnerships with Indigenous Institutes are largely driven by four elements: accreditation, funding, self-determination, and graduate success. Partnerships are intended to result in benefits for Indigenous Institutes and their partners. The chart below provides a snapshot of the types of benefits that partners can generally expect when working with us.

Driver for PartnershipPrimary Relationship PartnersPartnership Benefits
AccreditationColleges and UniversitiesIIs are able to offer accredited courses, certificates and degrees to Indigenous learners.

Colleges and Universities receive financial benefits as a result of the partnership.

Colleges and Universities receive diversity, equity and inclusion benefits as a result of the partnership.
FundingPublic GovernmentsIIs are able to access funding for core services and other needs.

Governments can fulfill their obligation to ensure accessible high-quality education to Indigenous learners.
Indigenous Self-Determination over EducationIndigenous CommunitiesIIs can credibly and authentically represent themselves as Indigenous-led institutions and contribute to the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and nations.

Indigenous communities have a trusted partner that can educate youth and train workers, and that has professional means to advance self-determination over education as envisioned by those communities.
Learner &
Graduate Success
Private Sector, Public
Sector, and Indigenous community employers
IIs can tailor programs to be relevant to learners and the job market, and increase the likelihood of success for
its learners and graduates.

Private, public, and Indigenous community employers can fill labour needs with trained Indigenous talent.

In our Partnership Guidelines, we further explore the dynamics of partnerships, characteristics of negative partnerships, as well as identify six policy recommendations that our Members recognize as must-haves in developing more sustained, meaningful and impactful relationships with external partners.

Additional Resources