by Theresa Majeran
(Edmonton) – 2016 marks the 15th anniversary for the Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards (BBMA) program. Its success has been remarkable. This year an additional 150 recipients will receive funding for tuition costs for post-secondary studies, bringin the number of students who have been support by this program to over 1000 recipients.
BBMA’s endowment invested in 2001 at the Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) provides financial awards to enable Métis students who demonstrate financial need, commitment to their educational goals and seek a connection to their culture to advance their aspiration for a career through post-secondary education.
The vision of the awards’ founders Dr. Herb Belcourt, Georges Brosseau Q.C. and Orval Belcourt is for self-sufficiency for their people through higher education. “Education is how you measure the wealth of a country and that’s the way you develop optimism and hope in our people,” stated Georges R. Brosseau Q.C. in 2012. Herb Belcourt believes times are changing for Aboriginal people and says, “In the future Canada will be proud of our Native people.”
This year, BBMA’s Founders, will see many past recipient graduates (alumni) attend the gala to commemorate this crystal anniversary. “We will be celebrating the achievements of deserving Métis students and helping them move forward with their studies and their futures.
BBMA founders have witnessed a high return on the initial investment in Métis students. Over 96% of BBMA students have successfully completed the studies for which they were funded. BBMA graduates are now employed as; Nurses, Teachers, Accountants, Lawyers, Doctors, Pharmacists, Social Workers, Engineers, Electricians, Bankers, Conservation Officers, Welders, Carpenters and Dental professionals to name a few.
The gala celebration will be held at the Ramada Inn and Conference Centre on September 24, 2016. 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. Approximately 650 guests are expected to attend, along with BBMA alumni, Founders, Elders, dignitaries, corporate sponsors and endowment donors. Table sponsorships are also available to support this event.
Alberta Indigenous Relations has been a sponsor of the BBMA celebration over the years. Their investments in the recipients and these awards serve as a lasting reminder to the students of the accomplishments they’ve made to themselves and to all Métis people as they confirm themselves as role models for future generations.
“Once again,” noted BBMA Marketing Manager, Theresa Majeran, “we have a great deal of pride in the achievements of our students and we are seeing our young Métis 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 the founders and the ongoing partnership with ECF and many corporations.”
The BBMA endowment has generous endowment donors along with Canative Housing Corporation including past alumni who have contributed to the fund to support future recipients so they can help others in the same way they were helped. Shell Canada saw the value in BBMA students and has hired more than 20 graduates so far. While the endowment is growing, the amount available to disburse cannot keep pace with the annual demand from students seeking financial support for their tuition costs. The challenge now is to engage more potential corporate and individual donors in the development of the BBMA endowment.
Harold Robinson, BBMA volunteer panel member believes 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 our lives 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 for education or careers.”
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 this endowment 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.”
“Last year the entertainment for the gala was designed to help tell the story of the Métis,” explained Majeran. “One of the initiatives put together was the Telling of the Story of the Métis Jig – to do this we pulled together a group of exceptional dancers – a First Nation Chicken Dancer, a Scottish Sword Dancer, a French fiddle player and step dancer and a Métis Jigger and at the end of the piece they all danced together. The idea was 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 interest and goals and we can all get there together much faster as a community than we can by working alone.”
Elders Jerry Wood and Betty Letendre will again present the 2016 awards recipients with their Métis Sashes. 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 each year we will light 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.”
Martin Garber-Conrad CEO for Edmonton Community Foundation noted that “during our 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 BBMAs are contributing to this positive trend. The report is available at www.vitalsignscanada.ca.”
Tania Kruk, BBMA alumni provided insight into the impact these awards have had in her life. “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. 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 BBMA, 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. 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 thank Theresa for all of her support; she is an amazing woman and she’ really made a positive difference in my life. Thank you everyone.”
Many letters of thanks are received each year and they send a message of heartfelt gratitude for the investment made into the futures they are embarking on. These letters echo the same sentiment: “By awarding me the BBMA, you have lightened my financial burden, which has allowed me to focus on the most important aspect of school: learning. Your kindness has inspired me to work hard, help others and to give back to my community.”
Theresa Majeran is available to visit your community, organization or school to talk about the awards and welcomes inquiries about 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 by calling 780-977-5515 or by sending an email to her at: [email protected].