A handful of Indigenous students at Okanagan College are going into Christmas knowing the financial burden of their schooling won’t be as great next semester.
Sixteen Okanagan College students received an Indigenous Student Award from the Irving K. Barber BC Scholarship Society in December — granting awards between $1,000 and $2,500 to Indigenous students pursuing post-secondary education.
Sophie Wilson, one of the recipients, is a bachelor of arts student at the Penticton campus who is transferring into the bachelor of business administration program in the new year, majoring in management.
“This award validates and recognizes all my hard work,” said Wilson. “It means I can support myself and my daughter while I continue to pursue my dreams at Okanagan College. One of the biggest things being a single mother is I always need something for my daughter, and I don’t ever want to worry about not having what she needs.”
Wilson said that jobs through school and other financial issues have distracted her from her studies in the past but this award will let her focus on what matters most.
“My overall goal is to be an active, successful student at school. I can’t do that effectively while working and being a single parent. This award means I don’t have to worry about working right now.”
The 16 Okanagan College students are among 612 Indigenous students in B.C. to receive more than $1.8 million in awards from the Society.
“Ike Barber, and the Society that lives on in his name, have had an immense impact on our students over the years, through awards such as these,” says OC President Jim Hamilton, who is also a former director of the society. “Support such as this not only inspires our students in their studies but hopefully also to contribute to their communities through their knowledge and skills.”
The Indigenous Student Awards program was created to assist in removing barriers to higher education for Indigenous peoples.
“Many Aboriginal students feel it is very overwhelming to be at a higher education institution as there has been racism and discrimination,” says Wilson. “My grandmother and mother suffered this at the universities they attended. I appreciate the work done by Okanagan College that has made it more comfortable and safer for Aboriginal students. I am proud that I can work to my abilities and have a fair chance at success at what I choose to do with my life.
“I also appreciate that as an Okanagan person, I can go to school in my home community on my own Territory. This means I don’t have to leave my support system which means my daughter and I have help and encouragement when we need it. This is something that others suffer from when they must go away to school. I have also been able to be a role model to others in my community by supporting others who wish to pursue their education.”
Wilson is one of more than 1,800 Indigenous students who attend Okanagan College.
A full list of the 2019 Indigenous Student Award recipients can be found here.