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Interviews with Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Funds winners

Scholarship helps Maritimes-based indigenous women with academic pursuits

by Delilah Saunders and Darryl Leroux

Charlotte Denny, one of this year's winners of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund
Charlotte Denny, one of this year's winners of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund
Alisha Wesley, one of this year's winners of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund
Alisha Wesley, one of this year's winners of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund
Haley Marie Bernard, one of this year's winners of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund
Haley Marie Bernard, one of this year's winners of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -- For the second year-in-a-row, the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund (LSCSF) was awarded to indigenous women students in the Atlantic. This year, there were 21 applicants for the award, including Mi’kmaq, Inuit, Cree, and Métis women studying at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Saint Mary’s University, Saint Francis Xavier University, Dalhousie University, New Brunswick Community College, Nova Scotia Community College, University of New Brunswick, Mount Saint Vincent University, Mount Allison University, St. Thomas University, and Cape Breton University.

Just as in its inaugural year, the LSCSF received applications from students completing diplomas or degrees in a wide array of undergraduate fields: engineering, education, child & youth studies, sociology, psychology, nursing, recreation, and commerce. We also received application from three Master’s students (social work, audiology, and education) and one PhD student (management).

While we continue to be enthusiastic about the widespread community response to the Fund, it’s undeniable after reading through the profiles of the 48 applicants over the first two years that indigenous women continue to face numerous barriers to the successful enrolment in and completion of post-secondary education.

We are concerned that many of the same barriers that Loretta faced – extreme poverty; chronic health conditions that disproportionately impact indigenous youth and adults; social isolation and alienation in an urban setting; inadequate and/or inappropriate cultural supports and services on campus; elder and child care responsibilities; and lack of curricular innovation, especially in the exclusion of land-based and language courses – place incredible obstacles in the way of academic success.

A large majority of our applicants demonstrate an almost-stubborn determination to succeed in a world that is often foreign and, intentionally or not, hostile to their success and well-being. For that, we want to recognize their strength.

This year’s three recipients are all currently enrolled in a university program in Nova Scotia. Each one will receive a $500 cheque from the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia, the organization that administers the fund on behalf of the LSCSF Council. We continue to raise money to increase our endowment, which stands at about $60,000.

Congratulations to Charlotte Denny (Mi’kmaw) of Eskasoni, who’s currently in her second year of the Bachelor of Engineering degree at Cape Breton University; Haley Marie Bernard (Mi’kmaw) of Pictou Landing, who’s currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Education degree at Saint Francis Xavier University; and Alisha Wesley (Cree) of Kaschchewan, who’s currently enrolled in the third year of the Bachelor of Child and Youth Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University.

We took a few moments with each recipient to ask some questions.

1. Charlotte Denny

Delilah Saunders: How do you feel as a recipient of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund?

Charlotte: The first thing that came to mind when I received your email was how much I felt humbled by such an honour. Your sister, Loretta Sunders, was such a beautiful soul and I am deeply honoured to receive a scholarship in her name.

DS: How did you hear about the scholarship?

CD: I heard about the scholarship from our Student Support Officer at Unama’ki College, Janice Basque. She encouraged me to apply.

DS: What are some obstacles that you are facing as an Indigenous woman pursuing higher education?

CD: I've been debating for a long time how I wanted to answer this question [the questions were emailed in advance]. I have been delaying it and I apologize for that. So, here it goes ... it's a long story ...

At CBU, most of my professors always tell me how much they want me to succeed. Of course, there's always one professor who doesn't. For two long semesters I had to endure being abused in his lectures. For example, he would (hypothetically) inoculate me with various diseases, all of which would result in my demise. One day, I realized that he ran out of ways to kill me in his lectures. He asked me if I had a dog, and my response was no. He continued with his lecture and told the class, “Well, if she did have a dog, I would give it an injection and it would die!”

I don't understand why I didn't stick up for myself earlier but, for some reason, my imaginary dog was the last straw. I decided to have a little chat with him after class. I told him that enough was enough: I was sick of him using me as an example in his lectures. I even told him that some of my classmates thought I was being targeted and that he was starting to come off as racist. My biology professor eventually did apologize, but I still reported him to the Dean. I didn't realize how much [sticking up for myself] affected me until I saw a huge jump in my overall marks. One thing I learned from this whole situation is that I am not alone and that this is an all-too-common story amongst indigenous students; many of us don't have the courage to stand up for ourselves.

DS: What is a message you have to send to future applicants and to those who are pondering schooling?

CD: Don't sit on the fence thinking that your life, dreams and career choice won't make an impact in this world. Just as one drop of water can make ripples, imagine how many more ripples we can make together. We, the First Nations of Turtle Island must stand up for our Mother Earth, who is need of protection. Education is a medicine that can heal the land.

**

2. Alisha Wesley

Delilah Saunders: How do you feel as a recipient of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund?

Alisha Wesley: I am so excited and happy to be a recipient of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund! I screamed when I read the email telling me I had been announced as one of the recipients, I felt so lucky!

DS: What are some obstacles that you are facing as an Indigenous woman pursuing higher education?

AW: I don’t meet many other Indigenous women in university, and it would be nice if I were to meet and see more pursuing higher education!

DS: What is a message you have to send to future applicants and to those who are pondering schooling?

AW: Keep a positive attitude and don’t give up! Not all Indigenous women can pursue higher education so if you get a chance, definitely take it and you will not regret it. Everyone will be so proud, and you’ll be proud of yourself.

**

3. Haley Marie Bernard

Delilah Saunders: How do you feel as a recipient of the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund?

Haley Marie Bernard: It feels great to be selected for this scholarship for my hard work, which I love doing not only for myself but for my community. And also in memory of a woman who did the same, and who believed in the rights of Aboriginal women and people. It feels right.

DS: How did you hear about the scholarship?

HB: I heard about the scholarship from on Facebook as well as in my community newsletter.

DS: What are some obstacles you are facing as an Indigenous woman pursuing higher education?

HB: Some of the obstacles I have faced include being comfortable leaving the community. It's never easy leaving your family and people you have been with your entire life. When you go to a town where you have never been and you're alone, it's hard to feel comfortable. Unless you are an outgoing person it's scary to get out into the world. I've struggled for years but I have built my own communities where I have gone. Now as a mother, it's been harder to financially take care of my son, [so I decided to stay home and] travel to school because that's what is best for us right now. Support is the most important thing anyone needs, but especially people who come from small communities they need it most. If I did not have the support of my family, I know I would not have been able to go back to school.

DS: What is a message you have to send to future applicants and to those who are pondering schooling?

HB: Don't be afraid to move forward, and don't be afraid to fail. No matter what comes up in your life to bring you down, come back stronger. We need to use everything that has ever made us feel like we can't do something, motivate us to want to do it more. As First Nation people we have had many obstacles to stop us from just being, so be what you want because NOBODY can make you be or do anything else! Education is the key to success.

Exclusive Update on Last Year’s Recipients

We thought we’d touch base with some of last year’s recipient, to see where they are twelve months later. Last year’s recipients were Samantha Goodyear (Inuk) of Nunatsiavut, who was pursuing the pilot program at the First Nations Technical Institute in Tyendinaga (Mohawk Territory); Danielle Root (Mi’kmaw) of Listiguj, who was pursuing a Master’s of Child and Youth Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University; Tanya Vincent (Inuk) of Nunatsiavut, who was pursuing a Bachelor of Nursing from Memorial University of Newfoundland; and Vanessa Googoo (Mi’kmaw), who was completing a Bachelor’s of Education degree at Saint Francis Xavier University.

1. Samantha Goodyear

Delilah Saunders: How did you hear about the scholarship?

Samantha Goodyear: Through [the Nunatsiavut government’s] Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), which supported me throughout my 3 years of College. They routinely sent out potential scholarships for their students to apply. PSSSP had been very helpful and promising in that way.

DS: How has the scholarship helped you?

SG: Attending college at First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) in southern Ontario had been emotionally, mentally and physically challenging for me. It was my first time leaving the province of Labrador – I had no idea what this new world could offer me. But, diving into something unknown helped me to build my character into the woman I wanted to be. I almost never boarded that plane at the Goose Bay airport to fly to Kingston, Ontario. I am very grateful I pushed myself to do so.

In my final year at FNTI I completed my academic courses, leaving me with Flight Training and Ground School for the 2015 semester. I knew I would flip from a full-time student to a part-time student, which demoted my privileges as well. So, I applied for the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund, the first scholarship I had ever applied for, told them my situation and passion to complete my final semester. And they listened. I was first notified through e-mail from the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia that I would be one of four recipients. It didn’t hit me until I received a letter in the mail, which is when I cried in full sobbing tears reading the letter. It wasn’t just overwhelming happiness – it felt as though Loretta herself had sent it to me. Not only did I need it – I followed the story of her passing deeply – this hit my heart because this hit my hometown, a small town where everyone knows just about everyone.

With the Scholarship I was able to pay a couple of months rent and bills in advance. I was able to stay in College. I even opened a savings account where a small portion went for future career possibilities, like moving for an unforeseen job position. My biggest investment went towards a noise-cancelling headset, Bose A320, for flight purposes, as a pilot my hearing will deteriorate over years of noise and vibrations and this headset will help prevent that decline. Without the Loretta Saunders Community Scholarship Fund my dreams wouldn’t have come true [in the way that they did]. For that I am deeply grateful.

DS: How are you doing in your studies or when did you graduate?

SG: I graduated in June 2015 and it has been extremely rewarding! Three long years – I would be lying if I were to say there weren’t times I wanted to quit. I fought through hard times, like being away from home when several of my friends and family members passed away; homesickness; and work overload. I remembered why I was here in College, what I didn’t want to start over given how far I had come. My grades and flight training we’re consistently between A’s and B’s. I now have my Advanced Diploma hanging on my wall.

DS: What are some sentiments you would like to pass on to future applicants and Indigenous women who are considering going to school?

SG: Do not become discouraged. I applied for funding two years in a row before it was granted to me. At the time I struggled between waitressing and bartending, but I was persistent. Know that you are in control of your life and working towards [your goals] in big steps or small, it will come to you. I went to College with a Cree woman who had three children and we graduated together, which brings me to sticking together; do not hesitate to ask for help. She helped me to understand our studies and I was able to reciprocate through our years studying together. Be a dreamer, go for what you want. I researched over 800 job titles, careers and trades before I choose to be a pilot in my early 20’s.

Fun fact: only 6% of pilots are women in the world and 11% of pilots are women in Canada – don’t let a male-dominated field discourage you either. Be proud of who you are and where you came from. I’ve met so many Cree, Mohawk, and Ojibwa women, who taught me a lot of other traditions where we burned sweet grass and sage. And finally my favorite words of wisdom: “Those who hoot with the owls at night do not fly with the eagles at day”.

**

2. Tanya Vincent

Delilah Saunders: How did you hear about the scholarship?

Tanya Vincent: I heard of the scholarship through social media. I'm in my second year of nursing and I'm doing excellent. This year I have saw an increase in academic success [as represented] in my grades after having my little girl. It pushed me to strive harder in my studies more than I ever did before. I graduate December 2016.

DS: What are some sentiments you would like to pass on to future applicants and Indigenous women who are considering going to school?

TV: Some sentiments that I'll pass on to other native women who are applying for school is that, no matter how hard it may seem, never give up on your dreams. If you truly want something make it happen. I've failed at a few things in life. When I finally found something that I enjoyed there was no room for failures. Choosing nursing was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It changed me as a person. Never give up hope that you're capable of doing something important!

**

3. Danielle Root

Delilah Saunders: How did you hear about the scholarship?

Danielle Root: I heard about the scholarship through Dalhousie Native Education Centre. I actually almost didn't apply because when I read the references required I thought you needed references from all the suggested people [professor, academic advisor, elder, etc]. But as I re-read I realized I had time to get one!

DS: How has the scholarship helped you?

DR: This scholarship has not only helped me financially, I didn't have much money at the time and I was able to get winter tires to drive safely, but also, it has helped me feel honoured that I was looked upon as a role model, when growing up my whole life I struggled with self-esteem issues. Guess it's why I want to work with families and guide them to see their potential. It gave me confidence in myself to keep writing my thesis and that what I had to say mattered [to somebody]. Being such a recognized scholarship, I also believe that it helped me get subsequent scholarships.

Not only that, but I met some amazing people through it, including (although not in person) you ... and Darryl and Molly [Community Council member and LSCSF co-founder] have also become good friends. In a world of such (ahem) difficult people, it’s important to surround ourselves with people who uplift us.

I honestly believe that the self-esteem boost that I received from being chosen as one of the recipients of last year’s scholarship helped me leave an abusive relationship shortly after receiving it.

DS: How are you doing in your studies or when did you graduate?

DR: My studies are going awesome, I just successfully defended my thesis proposal in October – now I’m onto the good stuff – research!

DS: What are some sentiments you would like to pass on to future applicants and Indigenous women who are considering going to school?

DR: Just do it! Follow your heart ... I took leave from a well-paying permanent position and entered into financial uncertainty to pursue what I always knew I should be doing – my Masters in education. It was my baby girl who gave me that courage to follow my dream ... she is now 3 ... and I wouldn't change [my decision] for anything ... So, follow your heart and your dreams and impossible is nothing.

----

You can make donations by cheque, email money transfer, or through the secure option on the Community Foundation website. Details for applicants can also be found on the website.

Community Foundation of Nova Scotia
1888 Brunswick Street, Suite 806
Halifax, NS B3J 3J8
Tel. 1-877-999-5907 or 902-490-5907
Fax 902 490-5917
infocfns@cfns.ca
http://cfns-fcne.ca/en/home/


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