Indigenous Student Awards for Post-Secondary Education

“Listening to learn, rather than to respond is one of the greatest lessons I learned from my grandparents”, says Indigenous Student Award recipient Jamie Coukell who is European from her father’s side and First Nations from her mother’s side. Raised in Nanoose Bay, she had the privilege of being neighbours with her grandparents who integrated Jamie into their culture. Jamie’s grandparents were an important part of her life and as Jamie took care of them this experience motivated her to pursue a career in Health Care. 

Winning this Indigenous Award encourages her to pursue her dreams of continuing a post-secondary education. “It is an honour to be selected for this award, encourages me to continue my journey of learning and also motivates me to give back to my community”, says Jamie. 

Since high school, Jamie has been involved in many extracurricular activities like soccer, and even now at UBC she is part of the intramural soccer team.  Jamie also enjoys music and was a member of a band – she plays the saxophone.  Jamie believes that sports and music can be strong tools in maintaining good health.  She believes in her own life the two activities have offered an “escape from a busy school schedule and allowed me to set aside time to be active and creative” – both effective means of maintaining good overall physical and mental health.Jamie’s ability to sympathize with others is one of her strong skills. She is easy to talk to and that helps people to trust her. Patience is a virtue and Jamie says that she learned to be patient from her grandfather. “I try to make a comfortable environment for everyone”, says Jamie hoping that these skills will help her in her chosen health care profession.

Currently, Jamie is a member of the Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) Committee, where she works alongside other students to create a more inclusive environment for BIPOC students within the Faculty of Kinesiology at UBC. “Taking my culture into my living is important for me. Joining the BIPOC committee has helped me to understand the importance of equity and inclusion.  Jamie is hoping to work in Physiotherapy and rehabilitation helping Indigenous communities as a health care worker that creates an equal and safe environment for everyone.

Xaanja Free is currently taking a Master’s in Library and Information Studies specializing in First Nations Curriculum Concentration at the University of British Columbia’s School of Information.  She recently received a $5,000 Indigenous Award in support of these graduate studies.

Xaanja shared with us that there are only a small number of Indigenous Librarians in Canada, and she is hoping to work for one of the few when she graduates from her master’s program in the Spring 2023.  

She was motivated to choose her course of study  and career when reflecting back on when she was a foster child, for it was in the library that she found refuge and answers to questions that most children ask of their parents. “While in foster care, I did not feel like I belonged anywhere, I did not feel loved or supported to achieve anything.  I had to learn to love myself for what I can achieve, and to appreciate what I can do on my own is my strength and my power. Over time, education became my mother and my father; I realized that research and learning is freedom –so becoming a librarian is where I was  meant to be.”

In her studies at UBC, Xaanja is passionate about supporting the construction of positive Indigenous identity to combat negative stereotypes.  Xaanja created a video that is shared on the UBC library website entitled Rethinking the Canon: A Contemporary Response to the Indian in the Cupboard. “My video discusses how a library can support positive Indigenous identity by seeking out books that include derogatory/negative descriptions of Indigenous peoples and shelving the book with a companion text written by an Indigenous author to provide readers an alternative to consider.  

This book pairing responds to questions and assumptions in the problematic text and serves as an alternative to banning or removing a ‘bad’ book from the stacks.  When Indigenous identity is formed by one who is non-Indigenous, we need to be mindful of what is being portrayed and how that portrayal is affecting how we consider one’s culture and peoples represented.” Xaanja encourages other Indigenous students to apply for scholarships and awards – like the Indigenous Award she received from the Irving K Barber BC Scholarship Society. She noted that the Award easy to apply for and that the renewal process is straightforward.  [Students can receive renewals of their Awards for up to four years.]   She further commented that unlike a debt, awards do not need to be repaid.  She closed by say, “Receiving this award is truly an honour!  My family and I are very grateful” Xaanja is a wife and mother of four children, she is a graduate of the University of Victoria where she previously earned a degree in Art History with a Minor in Education.