by John Copley
(ANNews) – The 2015 Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards (BBMA) gala took place at the DoubleTree by Hilton West Edmonton Hotel on September 26, marking the tenth year that the organization has been celebrating the achievements of deserving Métis students and helping them move forward with their studies and their futures. This year the awards foundation received more than 250 applications and honoured the achievements of 150 Métis students, each of whom received between $5000 and $7000 in scholarship award money.
“Once again,” noted BBMA Marketing and Communications Manager, Theresa Majeran, “we had a remarkable turnout for the event and once again we are seeing our young Métis students move into the future with hope in their hearts and an opportunity to complete their varied educations thanks to the generosity of this unique one-of-a kind initiative provided by the foresight of our founders and the ongoing partnership with Edmonton Community Foundation. Again this year we were fortunate to have Shell Canada as our Sash Presenting Sponsor, who has already hired more than 25 of our engineering, business and human resources students.”
A total of 150 students received funding this year and 50 of them came out to the recent gala to be honoured and encouraged by their peers. Some new emerging funds within the BBMA fund have been established during the last two or three years that are now granting awards.
“The Elder Marge Friedel Award Fund is presenting an award for the very first time,” said Majeran. “The recipient is Tia Murphy, who is pursuing her education degree and will become a teacher. Marge once told me that she’d like to see more of our Métis women in the classroom, teaching others because education was important to her. The Rau Family Fund, initiated by Naomi Rau two years ago has accumulated more than $10,000 and will also make a presentation for the first time; the first award is going to James Henry, who is studying law at the University of Victoria.”
Each year the BBMA awards gala comes up with new and innovative ways to showcase Métis peoples and the contributions they’ve made to Canada’s cultural scene.
“This year we’ve got a special bit of entertainment to help tell the story of the Métis,” explained Majeran. “One of the initiatives we’ve put together is the Telling of the Story of the Métis Jig – to do this we’ve pulled together a group of exceptional dancers – a First Nation Chicken Dancer, a Scottish Sword Dancer, a French fiddle player and step dancer and we wind it up with a Métis Jigger at the end of the piece they all dance together. The idea is to promote the fact that we are all related – the Métis didn’t jump out of a river or fly down from a cliff and it’s important to recognize the fact that we are all brothers and sisters and cousins. We need to get along with one another, understand one another and work together because for the most part we all have similar interests and goals and we can all get there together much faster as a community than we can by working alone. Our entertainment manager, Sarah Pocklington, has done a wonderful job of putting this program together.”
Elder Betty Letendre (Lafferty) opened the 2015 BBMA Awards Gala with a prayer that was followed by the singing of O ’Canada and a presentation of the Métis Anthem by Sarah Wolfe.
Elder Jerry Wood and Elder Letendre later presented the awards recipients with their Métis Sashes. Standing at the podium Elder Wood said that he truly enjoys “coming here each year to help celebrate the success of our youth who are advancing their education, and tonight I have lit a candle to honour the Elders and the ones who’ve passed on – those like Marge Friedel and Homer Poitras, who donated much of their adult lives to bring health and happiness to our Métis people and to this great country.”
“The Sash Ceremony,” explained Majeran, “is one of the highlights of the annual gala and Shell Canada has stepped up again as the Presenting Sponsor of this prestigious event. Shell Canada is one of many companies that recognize the importance and value of the awards; in 2013 they provided a $100,000 donation to the BBMA endowment fund.”
2006 BBMA award recipient Erin Callihou, now a visual editor at Global TV, was the first of several successful Métis youth who’ve gone on to become successful in their careers. After thanking the organization for its friendship and help over the years, she read a letter from Alberta’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley.
“Alberta Aboriginal Relations,” noted Ganley, “has been a sponsor of the BBMA over the years and believe these investments help Métis Albertans to realize self-sufficiency through post-secondary education and skills development. Congratulations to the recipients whose commitment to excellence has earned them these prestigious awards, which will serve as a lasting reminder of the accomplishments they’ve made to themselves and to all Métis people as they confirm themselves as role models for future generations.”
BBMA panel member Harold Robinson talked about the history of the Métis throughout the years, noting that “today there is opportunity for all of us as we contemplate education, as we contemplate our careers.”
As Métis, he said “we’ve inherited this ongoing push to make the most of it and not to leave things undone. Part of being on this panel, which I have been for some years now, is the feeling that “we have your back as you wade into these waters, whether it’s education or careers, we have your back.”
Congratulating the founders for their foresight and initiative Robinson added: “It’s an honour to sit on this panel; the move to change Canative Housing from walls to halls was a very brave and far-sighted thing to do. In a sense, what it did was to not only give effect to the premise that homes are important, which they are, but also hope for the future because that’s what we receive when we complete our education. Our partnership with ECF has been a positive and wonderful thing. Since 2001, $5.5 million has been given out in more than 1200 awards for 880 students and tonight we celebrate the 2015 recipients and find ourselves very fortunate to be able to hear from folks who received awards as far back as 10 years ago.”
Edmonton Community Foundation CEO, Martin Garber-Conrad told the gathering that “through the generosity of donors, ECF has distributed more than 16 million dollars in grants and scholarships last year. We do this by establishing permanent endowment funds that provide stable, on-going support to charities and students across multiple sectors, including arts, culture and heritage, recreation and leisure, environment, health and wellness, social and community services and education and learning; it is the latter that brings us together tonight.”
He said during research into putting together this year’s annual Vital Signs report “we were pleased to note that education levels are increasing and we are confident that programs like the BBMA’s are contributing to this positive trend. The report is available at www.vitalsignscanada.ca.”
“The awards program has proven to be a difference-maker,” agreed Majeran. “The success of this initiative has a great deal to do with the achievements of the recipients. Our graduates are getting noticed by our sponsors who continue to hire them. This is because recipients continue to strive for excellence as they work to finish their education and pursue their chosen careers. We’ve received major contributions in the past by corporate sponsors who understand the importance and the value of educating our youth and know what they are achieving. The support we receive each year is very much needed and very much appreciated, and we owe our gratitude to the many resource companies such as Shell Canada, NEXEN, Syncrude, Servus and Enbridge who are not only helping us to recognize the achievements of Métis youth, but are also tapping into the vibrant and fully educated resources of potential employees to fill the growing job opportunities in Alberta today.”
Several awards recipients, both past and present, took to the podium to address the gathering and talk about their experiences with the BBMA and what the scholarships and awards have meant to them. This group included Tim Taylor who is studying education and kinesiology at the University of Lethbridge; James Henry, who is studying law at the University of Victoria; Sarah Stephens, who has attained her Masters of Nursing: Nurse Practitioner from Athabasca University; and Tania Kruk who is in the process of finishing her final year at Athabasca University and completing her Bachelor of Health Administration Degree.
Tania Kruk, whose family resides on the Peavine Métis Settlement, is currently living in Beaumont with her husband, Chris, and their two children aged six and eight.
“I received my initial funding six years ago,” noted Kruk, who was pregnant with her son at the time and raising a two-year old daughter. “I’d always wanted to go back to school because school was something that I struggled with as a youth. I had some anxiety issues at the time as they put a bit of a damper on my life and my goals to finish school. It seemed I always had a headache, stomach ache or some other ailment but I eventually overcame that problem and it really happened once I was accepted by the BBMA for a grant to go back to school. My grades were good and I put my nose to the grindstone and worked hard to achieve my goals, but the reality is that without the belief and financial support of the BMMA, this dream I am about to realize may never have come true. I’m about to complete my Bachelor of Health Administration degree so of course I am very proud of myself, but more than that I am honoured to be a member of this BBMA family and so grateful that they decided I was worth the investment.
“I’ve always been interested in the health field – I enjoy helping others so it just made sense to follow my desires. I understand that Aboriginal people don’t all share good health and my passion is to work within my community to make a positive difference. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Athabasca University for their flexibility and their outstanding programs. I am able to get the help I need at the school and if I need extra time I can have it. It’s taken me six years instead of four to complete my education but the bottom line is that if you have the desire and the drive to succeed, and you get the help you may need along the way, you can accomplish your goals. Anything is possible. I thank the BBMA and its founders and sponsors for believing in me; I will not let you down. You have welcomed me in as a family member and it is very comforting. Your support is appreciated – I was older, I couldn’t pay for an education myself and my family is not in a position to help financially. I didn’t meet all the criteria and you still helped me and now I am about to realize my potential and I am very and forever grateful for that. I get teary-eyed when I watch the Founder’s Video – it is a remarkable story. I’d also like to thanks Theresa for all of her support; she is an amazing woman and she’s really made a positive difference in my life. Thank you everyone.”
The BBMA breaks down barriers, creates possibilities, and builds pride in the Métis culture; the awards provide financial support to help Métis students pursue post-secondary education and skills development. They are about much more than money. Creating possibilities starts with partnership. In 2001, the Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards Founders and the ECF shared a vision of building individual strength for Métis students through learning. Since 2001, the BBMA panel and ECF have granted more than 1200 Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards to Alberta Métis post-secondary students.
Theresa Majeran is available to visit your community organization or school to talk about the awards and welcomes inquiries and contributions from companies and individuals who would like to get involved in helping to improve the lives and the opportunities of Métis students. You can contact her at 780-977-5515 or by sending an email to [email protected].