Awards instill a sense of Metis pride among students.EDMONTON
The seventh annual Belcourt Brosseau Awards celebrated the successes of 52 students who demonstrated a passion and desire to succeed in their community as well as in their education goals.
Staged at the River Cree Casino on Sept. 20, the theme of the awards was, 'Creating Possibilities.' The awards not only recognize students' academic achievements, but as well as their financial need to complete their field of study.
The award gives potential Metis students the tools they need to puruse an education, whether it is a university degree or apprenticeship within the trades.
"The award program is very unique. It is one of the only ones out there truly giving to the Metis community, it enables people who would not normally have the chance to seek higher education to have that chance," said Paul Brosseau a panel member and a relative to George, a founder of the awards. "I think it is positive for the Metis community, a lot of Metis can now seek and pursue that education that they wanted. It doesn't have to be in university, we are very active in the trades programs as well. Our goal is to take the Metis community from high school and beyond to get them further in education."
The awards were established in 2001 by Herb Belcourt, Orval Belcourt and Georges Brosseau. The men were the directors of CaNative Housing Corporation when they established the awards through the Edmonton Community Foundation.
The CaNative Housing Corporation was created in 1971 as a non-profit housing company that provides affordable housing to Aboriginal people in Canada. Since 1971, the rent collected has been going into a large fund, which has been contributing to Metis education.
"I feel so proud of these Metis Albertans," said Herb Belcourt. "And, really those who have rented from CaNative Housing Corporation should be proud to know that the rent they paid is going to educate their children and their grandchildren."
The event was viewed as a positive success, by the award recipients and family members, including John Brosseau brother of Georges Brosseau, and a former panel member of the awards.
"If somebody in that room could not feel the Metis pride, they were asleep," said John Brosseau. "I think not only was it a great accomplishment for the people who received the awards, but also for the whole family and I think it would give people who were there, a real sense of, 'I can do this too.'"
The general feeling from the founders is the desire to see the awards expand and help even more students than they are now and with the high success rate of the students, there are few obstacles in the way.
"Over 93 per cent of the recipients graduated from their programs and that's a tremendously positive statistic," said Georges Brosseau. "I see us expanding the financial base by partnering with corporations in the community, by getting the provincial government and federal government more involved as well as developing an alumni association of graduates and through them increase our funding as well."
A feeling of excitement was in the air as Kaylee Townen, age 24, from Edmonton, told Sweetgrass about how she felt to receive this award.
"I feel very honoured to be a recipient because they gave me the opportunity to get back into school and not stress about finances," said Townen "I get better grades because I am not working full-time; it helped me a lot."
Another student, Stephanie Atchison, age 20, from Calgary was rather impressed with the uniqueness of the fund.
"It felt amazing to get it. Just to have that relief, so many scholarships are only a $100 here, a $200 there, and it's nice, but it took a lot more to get going with school. The Belcourt awards just covered everything so that was a great relief to have that," said Atchinson.
Along with receiving awards valued from $3,000 to $5,000, each student was presented with a Metis sash from Elder Marge Friedel.
Through the generosity of the Belcourt Brosseau Metis Awards founders, over $3 million has been provided to Metis students. Approximately 400 recipients across Alberta have benefited from these awards and have gone on to study in their field of choice.
Theresa Majeran, communications coordinator for the awards, told Sweetgrass that the response from these awards has been overwhelming.
"I have heard that people are starting to say that our event is the place to come if you are not too familiar with your culture to connect. In the urban community many of the Metis are so blended in but yet a lot of them are walking around with the need for identity and they can't identify within an urban setting; they can't identify on reserve either. And so I think when you give them something like that, like the sash ceremony which is just theirs," said Majeran. "When those kids have those sashes on their chests they are just a little bigger, their heads are a little higher. In addition, it is true when you give somebody an identity and something to connect with they want to show their stuff, and they want to talk about their passion. We don't just give money away we try to break down barriers and create pride in that culture."
Financial assistance is available to students in both post-secondary education and the trades. For most programs, the application deadline is March 31 of each year, however students in trades programs, can apply year round.
For more details and application forms visit www.dollarsforlearners.com or call Theresa at (780) 454-5555.
BY CHEREISE MORRIS
Sweetgrass Staff Writer