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In our own words

Canada’s universities are helping Aboriginal students reach their academic and career goals. Here’s how…

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Chantel St. Germaine

Chantel St. Germaine, Aboriginal student , University of Winnipeg

Chantel is a first year student in the Bachelor of Education/Bachelor of Arts Integrated program at the Winnipeg Education Centre. Part of UWinnipeg’s Access Education, the program is committed to preparing highly trained and highly competent professionals to teach in the inner-city community.

“I have great professors who are very understanding and caring and who want to see me succeed in what I love to do. I am now able to do what I’ve always dreamt of:  become an inner city school teacher. I want to work with at-risk children, who are in need of one-on-one time with the teacher in order to be successful in their education.”

Chantel is the first recipient of the Johnson Waste Management bursary valued at $25,000.

Chantel St. Germaine, bachelor of arts and bachelor of education student, The University of Winnipeg

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Leroy Fontaine

Leroy Fontaine, Aboriginal student, St. Mary's University

Saint Mary’s University football legend Leroy Fontaine is using his notoriety, his passion and his childhood experience to make a difference in the lives of troubled Aboriginal youth. Having grown up on northern Alberta’s Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Leroy understands and relates to the struggles today’s Aboriginal youth face. Along with fellow former Edmonton Huskies teammate Dathan Thomas, Leroy founded Tribal Dreams, a non-profit organization that runs athletic camps for Aboriginal youth.  In recognition of Leroy’s legacy at Saint Mary’s as well as “his commitment to social responsibility,” the 2012-13 Huskies football players collaboratively produced collectible trading cards and donated the proceeds to Tribal Dreams.

Leroy Fontaine, criminology graduate, Saint Mary’s University

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Jonathan LeRose

Jonathan LeRose, Aboriginal student, York University.

Jonathan LeRose, an Aboriginal student scholarship recipient, is a third-year acting student at York University. He believes that the Aboriginal Leadership and Mentoring program at York is a great resource that students can access in order to be introduced to the many facilities the institution has to offer or to how “the big city works.” For this reason, he is an active contributor, helping with social events and mentoring programs.

Jonathan LeRose, third-year acting student, York University

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Michael Maracle

Michael Maracle,Aboriginal student, St.Mary's University

Michael Maracle is studying Finance at Saint Mary’s University, but his university experience includes much more than coursework. Being the university’s Aboriginal student advisor, he is key in “establishing internal and external connections for Saint Mary’s approximately 50 Aboriginal students” and in ensuring smooth transitions from “their respective reserve bands” into university. Michael also organizes campus events, which contribute to the establishment of what he calls “an Aboriginal subculture or mini community.”

Michael Maracle, finance student, Saint Mary’s University

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Erin Marie Konsmo

Erin Marie Konsmo, Aboriginal student, York University

Erin Marie Konsmo, a master in environmental studies student, is enthusiastic about students accessing the “surrounding Aboriginal community’s resources.” She believes Aboriginal students on the York University campus should meet each other to exchange knowledge regarding community services, such as those located downtown. She encourages everyone to “reach out to them and find other youth that are passionate about similar things.”

Erin Marie Konsmo, master in environmental studies, York University

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Farrah Stevens

Farrah Stevens, Aboriginal student, St. Mary's University

After only a few months at Saint Mary’s University, Farrah Stevens already felt “a sense of connection through the small, compact campus, approachable professors and new friends.” She feels supported by the University’s Aboriginal society and is happy to know that she has people to go to when she wants to “relate on a deeper level through her Mi’kmaq culture.” “Just knowing that there are other Aboriginal people at Saint Mary’s gives me confidence.”

Farrah was one of 10 recipients of the RBC Aboriginal Students Awards Programs, a prestigious scholarship for which there were over 500 applicants from across the country. This scholarship has allowed her to continue her plans of completing a bachelor of science at Saint Mary’s with confidence and a sense of security. She plans on becoming an environmental lawyer.

Farrah Stevens, bachelor of science, Saint Mary’s University

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Melony Roberts

Melony Roberts, Aboriginal student , University of Winnipeg

“It has been very challenging for me to come back to school after so many years away working and raising children,” said Roberts. “I am very determined to do something to improve our lives and think there are a million opportunities in the environmental field. My son, who is 7, wants to be a scientist now so he can be like mom. He thinks it is so cool.”

Melony Roberts is a single mother in environmental studies at the University of Winnipeg. She received a $1,300 Louis Riel Bursary from the Manitoba Métis Federation.

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Johnny Mack

Johnny Mack, Aboriginal student, University of Victoria.

“This is a place that provides a nourishing environment. I have come to find a voice that’s carried out in my scholarship, I’ve found a lot of support…helping me develop the ideas. There is a place here for somebody thinking about the things I’m thinking about, interested in the justice from the angle I’m interested in. There’s space on this campus to take those issues seriously.”

Johnny Mack, PhD candidate in the graduate program in law and society, University of Victoria. Studying Indigenous legal traditions and is a scholarship recipient from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

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Silvia Dueck

Sylvia Dueck,, étudiante autochtone, University of Winnipeg.

“I have received so much help and support through UWinnipeg’s Aboriginal student services…I started from nothing and found out I really loved school and was getting good grades, and for the first time I realized: I can go on to university. It is something I always wanted but I didn’t think it was a possibility.”

Sylvia Dueck, second year student, Aboriginal art history, University of Winnipeg. Recipient of a $1,500 bursary from the university.

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Jamie Springchief

Jamie Springchief, Aboriginal student, Athabasca University

“I feel much more liberated both as a woman and as a native individual. I hope to show my people and, most importantly, my children and nieces and nephew, the importance of being educated and the rewards it brings, so that they too will pursue their post secondary education. Personally, many more doors have opened for me.… I feel much more capable and confident moving forward in life.”

Jamie Springchief, bachelor of arts in psychology, Athabasca University

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Terese Robertson

Terese Robertson, Aboriginal student, University of Saskatchewan, avec un mannequin.

Terese Robertson is passionate about becoming a nurse. It’s a profession she believes will offer many diverse employment opportunities and will enable her to help people in need. She wants to be an advocate for Aboriginal people and help guide them through the health-care system so they are able to obtain the care they need; to support patients in their efforts to “better their mind, body and spirit.”

Born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Terese grew up in Saskatoon and on the James Smith First Nation. Her mother, a licensed practical nurse herself, inspired her to attend university and become a health sciences student. Terese, the single parent of two sons of her own, wants to be a role model for her children and show them that “education is one’s freedom.” She encourages all students to pursue their dreams and to never give up, even if there are struggles along the way.

Terese Robertson, nursing student, University of Saskatchewan

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Jessica Ounsted

Jessica Ounsted, Aboriginal student, Kwantlen University

“My postsecondary education, as well as my career as a teacher, has been enhanced greatly by the work and evolvement I did at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Aboriginal Gathering Place. It was a wonderful resource centre where Aboriginal cultures were celebrated and resources were available. I worked there as a tutor for over two years. Part of my job was to attend career conferences for Aboriginal youth in the lower mainland and promote (postsecondary) education. My experiences taught me a lot about the value of education and the rewards of having a resource like Kwantlen’s Aboriginal Gathering Place not only for Aboriginal students but also the general population.

I feel that my postsecondary education, and my public school education have encouraged me to be a more aware and compassionate person. I have also learned the impact a lack of education can have, and therefore, in my own classroom I promote cultural compassion and empathy. I also did a mini unit on Aboriginal storytelling with my 2/3 class in the fall which [the students] thoroughly enjoyed. I hope that by teaching them a bit about First Nations culture they will become inspired to learn more and in turn become better-educated young people.”

Jessica Ounsted, 2011 graduate, bachelor of arts degree: english major, anthropology minor, Kwantlen University.

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Shane Henry

Shane Henry, Aboriginal student, University of Saskatchewan, in a library.

“The U of S is close to my home, family and friends. I appreciate the value of their physics programs as my undergrad major in astronomy was a large focus of my studies. I eventually entered the world of education and began a journey to understand social justice issues related to conditions affecting Aboriginal people and the spaces they inhabit in education.”

Shane Henry, masters in education student, University of Saskatchewan

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Kendal Netmaker

Kendal Netmaker, étudiant autochtone, University of Saskatchewan.

In addition to earning two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan – a bachelor of education degree and a bachelor of arts degree in Native studies – Kendal Netmaker has launched a successful clothing line called Neechie Gear (“Neechie” is a slang form of “my friend” in the Plains Cree language). He has also started NG Athletics Club Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on youth sports.

Kendal’s efforts have been recognized with numerous awards and honours: he placed first in the 2010 Aboriginal Youth Idea Challenge and third in the 2011 W. Brett Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence i3 Idea Challenge. Also in 2011, he was chosen as one of 30 entrepreneurs to make up Team Canada at the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit in Nice, France.

Kendal, who is originally from Sweetgrass First Nation, recognizes the importance of getting an education. The skills he learned are proving to be beneficial in his role as a business owner, and he has many positive memories of his time at university, such as “making many friends, learning many life lessons and realizing that entrepreneurship is for me!” 

Kendal Netmaker, bachelor of education and bachelor of arts in Native studies, University of Saskatchewan

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Shelley Gauchier

Shelley Gauchier, étudiante autochtone, Athabasca University

“Learning Communities helped me and other people stay in a program and complete it! It was amazing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It also felt good to be involved in others’ successes because of the Learning Communities support network and help our network of learners to be confident in what they were doing online. I have strengthened my self-confidence, and upon receiving my certification, I got a job as an early childhood educator in the preschool program in High Prairie. I am so excited!”

Shelley Gauchier, Learning Communities learner and mentor at the Peavine Métis Settlement, Athabasca University

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Kyle Daniels

Kyle Daniels, Aboriginal student, University of Winnipeg.

“I never had the means to go to school, so this bursary [from the University of Winnipeg’s Opportunity Fund] has really made the difference by covering my tuition and books. I would like to make a difference in the community working with youth who need help, because I’ve seen lots of need firsthand growing up.”

Kyle Daniels, student in the University of Winnipeg’s urban and inner-city studies program.

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Joe Waskewitch and Destini Gardypie

Joe Waskewitch and Destini Gardypie, étudiants autochtone, University of Saskatchewan

Joe Waskewitch, of Onion Lake Cree Nation, and Destini Gardypie, of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, are in the process of changing their lives. Both are enrolled in the Indian teacher education program offered through the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education.

After working for 22 years in the area of school maintenance, Joe decided to launch a new career and entered the program where he now majors in industrial arts. Destini is a former educational assistant now majoring in Native studies. The pair acknowledges the support of the Indian teacher education program staff throughout their studies. Says Destini: “I truly enjoy the ITEP program. It is definitely a positive challenge and very rewarding.”

Joe Waskewitch and Destini Gardypie, education students, University of Saskatchewan

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Xavier Fischer

Xavier Fischer,étudiant autochtone, University of Saskatchewan.

“Having the Aboriginal students’ centre and the Aboriginal student achievement office are pivotal in the development of the Aboriginal students attending [the University of Saskatchewan]. Academia is sustenance for the soul in a sense that it is a fulfillment for a person who genuinely desires to be learned. Aside from the education, having the Aboriginal students’ centre and the Aboriginal student achievement office are pivotal in the development of the Aboriginal students attending here. Having that sense of community is so comforting and appreciated by them because they receive what is needed and wanted, by the tremendous staff facilitating them. They know what it is like to be where we are. They made the path here more easy, just as the others before them made it a bit more inviting.”

Xavier Fischer, political studies student, University of Saskatchewan

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Andrea Landry

Andrea Landry, Aboriginal student, University of Windsor.

“Turtle Island at the University of Windsor provides a sense of community. The staff provides us with a sense of home and allows us to share our knowledge and experience.  Unfortunately, too often the cultural component is missing within the classroom context. Turtle Island acknowledges Indigenous students in a way that allows a deeper cultural connection in an unfamiliar environment − an urban setting where Aboriginal students are too few in number. I am so grateful for the family-like connections I have established, for classmates and peers, for the great atmosphere where I meet people that are like my aunties, uncles, and cousins. Turtle Island is the support I need to complete my graduate program. For all the support, I say Miigwetch! (thank you!).”

Andrea Landry, candidate, M.A. social justice, University of Windsor.

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Angel Compton

Angel Compton,étudiante autochtone, University of Winnipeg.

“My goal is to return to my home community and hopefully, create a community centre for youth.”

Angel Compton, student in the bachelor of arts in Indigenous studies, was awarded a University of Winnipeg scholarship in honour of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

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Deborah Chief

Deborah Chief, Aboriginal student, Athabasca University

“My MBA degree will enable me to provide strong, reliable leadership for my nation…I attribute the success of our community to the knowledge I’ve gained at Athabasca University and the leadership skills I’ve acquired over the years. It has opened my mind for creative thinking and knowing that anything can be done with the right planning and education. It has opened up the world and the ability to recognize that which is in the best interest of my community… I am grateful for all the support I received along the way. Meeqwetch!”

Deborah Chief, MBA (2010), the first female chief elected in her community, the first woman from the community to earn a master’s degree and the first chief in Manitoba to hold an MBA. Read full story

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Gaétan Lefebvre

Gaétan Lefebvre, étudiant autochtone, l’Université du Québec en Outaouais.

“When I first got here, I didn’t easily identify with the rest of the student body, but I adapted to the university environment by focusing my work, whenever possible, on Aboriginal issues. I strived to promote my culture and my identity through my research as well as in my student life. In 2010, I took a course on the history of the First Nations in Quebec and in Canada and I met people who were interested in Native issues. The following year, I founded a student association called L’Amicale autochtone de l’UQO to build bridges between the different cultures represented at UQO. The AA-UQO was created to reach Aboriginals, Métis, Inuit, and Indigenous people from South America and around the globe. Aboriginals include not only members of the 11 First Nations in Quebec, but also Indigenous peoples throughout the world.

On March 26, 2012, AA-UQO held UQO’s first-ever Aboriginal History Day. It was also the first day of the general student strike. We went ahead with the event anyway, and it turned out to be a real success, with more than 50 people talking part. We also officially announced the appointment of the Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal land governance. I’d like to thank the UQO for providing me with a forum where I could exercise constructive leadership and actively participate in student life. I hope that, by doing so, I will have left an indelible mark on the school’s history and that I will have given future generations of Aboriginal students an association that understands their culture and promotes communication between the various indigenous student populations at UQO.”

Gaétan Lefebvre, undergraduate student in the faculty of business administration at Université du Québec en Outaouais

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Alexandre Nahdee

Alexandre Nahdee, Aboriginal student, OCAD University, regardant son iPad.

“The courses in the Aboriginal visual culture minor totally and dramatically changed my life. … As if one layer of the fog seemed to clear and I started to see things and understand things in a way I should have been seeing them all along. Having the knowledge helped me see and realize what it means to be able to make art that has a purpose.

You always hear about yourself and your heritage as distant and removed, looked at through an impersonal academic lens, detached from your self. The program brought my ancestors back to me and made a real connection. It seemed like the torn fabric was brought back together again. It mended the blanket.”

Alexandre Nahdee, fourth-year drawing & painting student taking OCAD University’s Aboriginal visual culture minor.

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Tanis Worme

Tanis Worme, Aboriginal student, University of Saskatchewan.

“The underrepresentation of Aboriginal people in public health and natural sciences has ignited my passion for studying in this field.  I came to the University of Saskatchewan out of convenience, but I am glad I did. This university offers Aboriginal-specific support… In that vein, one of my fondest memories at the U of S was celebrating Aboriginal Achievement Week with my fellow students.  I am currently the vice-president of finance and operations for the Indigenous Students’ Council (ISC).   My participation with the student council also includes my involvement with the council’s sub-committees such as culture, social and financial.”

Tanis Worme, biology student, University of Saskatchewan

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Lisa Monchalin

Lisa Monchalin, Criminology professor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“Hand drumming allowed me to express who I am with pride. I wanted to share my positive experience with others. Through the creation of the Kwantlen Polytechnic University Aboriginal Hand Drum Circle, I witnessed the positive impacts this circle has had on students. It has provided a safe place for sharing and connecting. It has also helped some students build confidence and a proud sense of identity.”

Lisa Monchalin, criminology instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University. First Aboriginal woman in Canada to earn a PhD in criminology.

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Rachel Etapp

Rachel Etapp, Aboriginal student, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, en train d'étudier avec son fils.

“In 2010, my husband and I decided that the time was right for me to go back to school and get my bachelor’s degree. UQAT offered a variety of certificates in management, and three certificates can earn you a bachelor’s degree. The university is situated in Val-d’Or, a city that is centrally located for the various Cree communities. There are a number of extracurricular activities available for children, including hockey, music and more. It was important for us to make the transition as smooth as possible for every member of our family, and we managed to do just that!”

Rachel Etapp, management student and member of the Cree tribe, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue.

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Jessica Humchitt

Jessica Humchitt, étudiant autochtone, Simon Fraser University.

“Having an environment that’s supportive and encouraging is really key. I don’t think I would have ever been able to do this year if I didn’t do [Simon Fraser University’s continuing studies eight-month Aboriginal pre-health bridging program]. It’s just such a different world.”

Jessica Humchitt, second year student in health science at Simon Fraser University

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Donna Lester-Smith

Donna Lester-Smith, Aboriginal doctorate, University of British Columbia.

“My graduate work has given me a sense of belonging and an understanding of the role I can play as a leader, mentor and representative of my community. The support and encouragement I got through this program allowed me to move forward as an academic and contributor to this field.”

Donna Lester-Smith, PhD in education, University of British Columbia. Her research focused on healing the wounds of family violence with Indigenous traditional holistic practices.

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Yvonne Poitras Pratt

Yvonne Poitras Pratt, Aboriginal student, University of Calgary

“Having a place like the Native Centre on campus was not only vital but pivotal to my success. It represented a place where I could ground and reaffirm myself as an Aboriginal, and my journey would not have been as rich without it”

Yvonne Poitras Pratt, PhD in communication studies, University of Calgary

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Mr. Frankie Cote

Frankie Cote, Aboriginal student, University of Ottawa

“To sum up my education experience, I draw upon a teaching of the Anishinabeg, ‘look to your sons and daughters, for they are your future.’ My family knows that I have done this for them, for education is the passport to the future, and education is the bootstrap First Nations communities must use to improve their social and economic conditions. Thus, I say I have done this for my children, so they can have a brighter future.”

Frankie Cote, an Anishinabeg from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg of the Algonquin Nation; 2012 graduate from common law, University of Ottawa

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Jenna Marr

Jenna Marr, Aboriginal student, Mount Saint Vincent University

“Volunteering at the diversity centre is really important to me because I’d like to see our Aboriginal culture become more prominent on campus. I’d also like to help promote the opportunities available at the centre. ”

Jenna Marr, first-year student in public relations, Mount Saint Vincent University

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