Indigenous Awards Support Okanagan College Students

Kamloops’ Austin MacArthur moved to Kelowna to attend Okanagan College’s Automotive Service Technician program to unlock a lifelong dream of becoming a mechanic – a dream fueled in part by the Irving K. Barber BC Scholarship Society’s Indigenous Student awards.

MacArthur is one of over 600 BC Indigenous students who shared more than $2.2 million in awards from the Society in support of post-secondary studies. The Society’s Indigenous Award program is one of six award programs and was created to assist in removing barriers to higher education for Indigenous peoples.

“I cannot explain how grateful I was to find out I was an award recipient,” says MacArthur. “The support from the Irving K. Barber Indigenous Award has enabled me to purchase a reliable laptop – a necessity for online learning – and most importantly it has taken the stress away of having to work while in school.”

The society offers renewable annual awards of $1,000 to $5,000 to students studying at all post-secondary levels – including trades training, apprenticeships, diplomas, certificates, undergraduate degrees, and even masters, doctoral, and teacher education studies. The awards are renewable in order to provide sustained funding over multiple years.

“Do your research about scholarships and bursary awards that are available,” advises MacArthur. “Even if you think you won’t get it, if you meet the eligibility, take the time to apply. You never know what could happen.”

His advice is echoed by Okanagan College School of Business student Saige Girouard, who received similar financial supports to complete her Bachelor of Business degree.

“I’ve been contemplating applying for these awards for four years before I finally did,” explains Girouard. “As a non-status Métis, I’ve always struggled with applying for Indigenous awards and the feeling I felt when I received my congratulatory letter for this award is unparalleled – to be recognized as an Indigenous person with academic success is a huge honour.”

The Society’s Indigenous Awards are available to students who identify as Indigenous, which the society defines as First Nations (Status or Non-Status), Métis, or Inuit.

Girouard will be completing her Bachelor of Business Administration degree with Honours, a distinction she credits to the financial freedom from the Indigenous Award which allowed her to focus entirely on school. Girouard’s dream is to work with the government and be part of the change towards a genuine and sustained reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“We know this Awards program makes a real difference in shaping the futures of Indigenous students,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training in a media release issued by the Irving K. Barber Society. “Every year, these funds help break down barriers for Indigenous students enabling recipients to become active participants in classrooms, in communities and eventually in B.C.’s economy by putting their knowledge and skills to good use.”

OC’s Computer Information Systems student David Tearoe and Education Assistant student Deanna Josephson couldn’t agree more. Both students enrolled at Okanagan College with the goal of changing their career paths, a goal that was assisted by the Indigenous Awards.

Tearoe, a Keremeos local, has spent the last 12 years working in the floor installation industry and was able to confidently make the transition back to school to study his true passion, data analysis.

“Receiving this award was incredible and could not have come at a better time,” explains Tearoe. “Returning to school to switch careers is financially stressful and this award helped me mentally and financially transition to a sustainable, life-long career in my field of choice.”

Josephson worked in the social service field in Regina, Sask. for more than a decade before moving to Vernon. After starting her family and staying at home for a few years to raise her children, Josephson realized her desire to work with children as a career. She enrolled in the College’s Education Assistant program in Vernon to upgrade her skills and pursue a new career, allowing her to follow her passion of supporting children with special needs.

“I am a mother to three children all under the age of six,” says Josephson. “This award has helped our family so much. It made returning to school a lot easier and I look forward to graduation when I can return to work with confidence in my new career.”

Since the award's inception, nearly $23 million has been distributed to BC students. Students can apply for awards in several categories – Indigenous Awards, International Scholarships, Transfer Scholarships and Women in Tech.

Applications for the 2021/22 Indigenous Awards will be accepted by the Society until 5 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2021. Students looking to apply or find more information about the awards including eligibility and award renewals can visit the Society’s website,

Original article from Okanagan College