Endowment fund from Métis Nation of Alberta will help students achieve academic goals

Métis student Jessica Swain faces a dilemma familiar to many post-secondary students: financial woes threaten to prevent her from reaching her academic goals.

Swain, who is enrolled in the bachelor of midwifery program at Mount Royal University, funds her own education and said she thinks it would be unfortunate if “financial barriers” prevented her from getting the training she needs for her future career.

Fortunately, the financial pressure placed on Swain was recently lifted, when she was named as one of five inaugural recipients of a $500,000 bursary fund for Métis students at MRU.

On Dec. 1, MRU and the Métis Nation of Alberta announced the creation of the Métis Education Foundation Bursary Endowment Fund. The newly created fund will provide bursaries to Métis students each year in perpetuity.

“It’s impacted me hugely,” said Swain about being awarded the bursary. “It’s such a financial burden to be a student, and actually I didn’t have funding this semester, so it couldn’t [have] come at a better time.”

From left: Jennifer Fox, Tabitha Kee, Jade Benoit and Jessica Swain are among the inaugural-recipients of the newly created fund. The Métis Education Foundation Bursary Endowment Fund has will provide bursaries for Métis students at MRU in perpetuity.
Photo by: Krystal Northey
Robin Fisher, vice-president academic at MRU, said that compared to other post-secondary schools in Alberta, MRU has one of the highest percentages of aboriginal students in relation to the total student body. Roughly 500 aboriginal students attend MRU, and according to Fisher about a third of these students are Métis.

Fisher spoke to a small crowd gathered in front of MRU’s Iniskim Centre on Dec. 1, and told the audience that he would like to see the university do more to support its aboriginal student body.

“Together we can ensure that Métis students have the resources they need to be successful and realize their post-secondary aspirations,” said Fisher.

Fisher’s words were echoed by MRU president David Docherty, who told the crowd that the school is committed to providing financial aid to students. But Docherty also said that the university “can’t do it alone.”

Funds for the new bursaries come from the Rupertsland Institute, a non-profit institution based in Edmonton that is owned by the Métis Nation of Alberta.

In receiving the funds, MRU has joined the ranks of nine other post-secondary institutions with endowment funds set up by Rupertsland on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Aaron Barner, spokesperson for Rupertsland, said the institute would be announcing funding for two more schools in southern Alberta, naming the University of Lethbridge and the University of Calgary as likely recipients.

“To us this donation isn’t a donation, it’s an investment in Métis people. We look at the investment and our return on investment is improving the lives of Métis people as a whole.”

– Aaron Barner, Rupertsland Institute spokespersonBarner said the goal of the new MRU fund is to encourage more Métis students to enroll in, and complete, post-secondary studies.

“A lot of times Métis students get lost in the pan-Aboriginal approach to education,” said Barner, “so we like to have Métis-specific programs, and we like to create an understanding for who the Métis are through them.”

Barner said the new bursaries do more than provide funding; rather, he believes they play a part in improving the Métis community.

“To us this isn’t a donation, it’s an investment in Métis people,” said Barner. “We look at the investment, and our return on investment is improving the lives of Métis people as a whole.”

In Swain’s case, this “investment” in the Métis people has the potential to pay off for everyone involved.

Swain said it is her goal upon graduation to set up her own midwifery practice, where she would provide services to women and families in rural low-income communities, and rural aboriginal communities.

“Education is of paramount importance,” said Swain. “I think that education is one of the most important ways that any community or any person can further themselves in life and create a better future.”

knorthey@cjournal.ca