For Higher Education

A new partnership provides education solutions for Indigenous communities

Indigenous communities have been closing the gap in higher education. Slightly over half of the Indigenous population has some form of post-secondary schooling, according to Statistics Canada.

Still, for rural and remote communities, getting education beyond high school — or even junior high — can mean that it is necessary to move away from home.

This can be an expensive endeavour, especially with the rising cost of housing. So the Athabasca Indigenous Investments (AII) organization has been working to create a fund to provide students with financial awards to help with higher education.

“More and more communities are striving for ways to connect their individuals with post-secondary education,” says Justin Bourque, president of AII, a partnership of 23 First Nation and Métis communities in Alberta that purchased seven pipelines from Enbridge in 2023.

AII, working as a community collective, is taking steps to make sure that there is funding for its students and has been working with the Bank of Montreal (BMO) to spread awareness of the fund to potential post-secondary students.

“We were at a celebration and were surprised and delighted when BMO announced that they would donate $100,000 to the education of 23 Indigenous communities,” says Bourque.

He was born and raised in the community of Anzac, Alberta, to a family with a proud, traditional Métis heritage. He is the third generation owner of the family trapline.

“This is a great opportunity for us to provide a solution for education,” says Bourque.

After deciding on the funds, Bourque says AII considered how to develop the program and selected Edmonton Community Foundation to help set up and administer the fund. He says that the fund is being designed to be versatile and meet a diverse set of learning goals.

“That’s one of the special things I would say about this endowment fund is that it does support folks going to university or post secondary, but it also supports individuals that are looking to enhance their career path, whether it be through skilled trades or schooling for those types of activities as well,” says Bourque.

Chief Greg Desjarlais of Frog Lake First Nation agrees that this is an important step forward for making sure there’s funding for youth in the community.

“Education is the First Nations people’s new Buffalo that will provide for many young members and families,” says Desjarlais. “Being educated will open doors for those seeking to enhance future growth of our nations.”

Other Indigenous leaders agree that this is an important step forward.

“The Athabasca Indigenous Investments bursary program is a remarkable initiative that will empower students connected to the AII communities to pursue their dreams of higher education,” said Ron Quintal, the president of the Fort McKay Métis Nation.

Ron said that when it comes to education, it is important to think about the prospects it brings to future generations. That’s why he is excited to work with AII and BMO.

“This program embodies our commitment to fostering educational growth and empowering Indigenous youth by providing opportunities for generations to come,” he said.

This story comes from the Fall 2023 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full issue.