Two of the 10 newest recipients of the RBC’s 2011 Aboriginal Student Awards are from Alberta.
“It was an honour to find out that I had won,” said Henry Heavy Shield, of the Kainai First Nation. “When I received the call, I was told that there were hundreds of applicants and only around 10 scholarship winners. Also, as a student, especially a student living in Vancouver, it’s a really big help financially.”
Shield received a two-year award and is currently studying for his Master’s degree in English at the University of British Columbia. He is particularly intrigued by Native identity, narrative, and issues relating to sovereignty and land use, he said.
“What excites me about my studies is that we all are connected somehow through literature and language. It’s how we communicate with our friends and family. We also make sense of our lives through the lens of stories.”
Already a short story of his has been published in a local literary journal, and he placed second and third in two University of Lethbridge writing contests. Dr. Maria Ng, an English professor at the university, sees great potential in her former student. “His writing gift will make his one of the important First Nations literary voices in the future.”
Shield’s brother and two sisters have been a huge influence along the way, he said. All three siblings have university degrees and are involved in First Nations communities here and abroad. “My mother works with Children’s Services in Standoff, and she has also been immensely supportive in my student career.”
He has gained more than accolades and academic experience during this student career. “I heard a joke once that said if you want to know what you can do with an English degree, just ask your waiter. But, there doesn’t have to be such a finite aim to university education, or an English major for that matter. I’ve learned so much about myself and what I am capable of in the past four years that I would not have learned anywhere else.”
Still, he does know he’d like to become involved with post-secondary education somewhere down the line. “I’ve had plenty of great teachers over the years, both inside and outside the classroom. And I’d like to share what they’ve taught me.” He also would like to continue on to a PhD.
Allie Ferris, a Métis from Lac la Biche, received a four-year award. She is currently in her first year of the Bachelor of Applied Business Administration in Accounting at Portage College, with an eye to finishing her degree at N.A.I.T.
Her mother, a single parent, encouraged Ferris to work hard and pursue a post-secondary education. Maintaining an honours standing every year, Ferris still found time to volunteer and participate in community events.
“The calibre of applications coming in are quite strong,” said Dale Sturges, national director of Aboriginal Banking at RBC. “These candidates in particular, they certainly stood out in my mind. These are young people who are going to make such contributions to Canada and to the world, and just to be part of that, and to see that potential is very exciting.”
Launched in 1992, the RBC award provides First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth across Canada $4,000 each academic year towards their post-secondary education. The prize can be used for tuition, textbooks, supplies and living expenses.