Student Type: Indigenous Award Recipient

Craig Adams

Craig Adams first received an Indigenous Student Award in 2020 and then he received a subsequent renewal of the Award in 2021. He is currently in his fourth year of a five-year Bachelor of Education program at the University of Victoria.

Receiving the Award and then the renewal the following year was an absolute blessing. It helped me to attend classes on campus, pay for accommodations, eat healthy food, and to focus on my studies and stay organized in my personal life. It gave me the opportunity to be comfortable away from home and to continue my learning track.  I don’t think I would be able to study without it.”

Craig shared with us that his first two years at university were a little overwhelming, but his dream of teaching kids in elementary school pushed him to continue his learning journey.  He has a positive attitude and generous spirit and is looking forward to sharing these attributes, along with his practical knowledge and experience, with young people in British Columbia.

Craig originally thought about becoming a social worker, but a relative, who is a teacher, thought he would make a very good teacher and so encouraged him to pursue the teacher profession. Craig then realized “what is good for you is not always what you first imagine.

Craig invites other Indigenous students to apply for an Indigenous Student Award noting that the application process is straightforward and easy to navigate.

Xaanja Free

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 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.


Jamie Coukell

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.

James Beardy

James Beardy is an inspiration and a role model for anyone who feels like they need a start over. Moving from his home, changing careers, and beginning again in his mid-30’s, James has no deficit of courage. Currently working towards a Resource Management Officer Technology (RMOT) Diploma Program at Vancouver Island University (VIU), James is on his way to pursue his true passion, protecting the outdoors and wildlife he grew up loving so much.

Originally from Northern Manitoba, Fox Lake Cree Nation, James Beardy was no stranger to the splendour that endless acres of nature could provide. Raised in small towns by his Grandparents, James’ passion for wildlife extended up until high school when, as many of us have experienced, the allure of a social life outweighed the child-like curiosity for exploring the outdoors. Uninspired by classes and the structure of school, James moved out on his own at 18 to make some cash bartending and, after struggling with late nights at work and early morning classes, eventually dropped out of school.

As the late nights of bartending got tiresome, James began working at a General Motors dealership. “I got hired as a car cleaner for sales, then applied to be the ‘tire guy’ and eventually moved up from there”. It was not until he installed an engine on his own that it was clear to his colleagues and superiors that he could do more. He enrolled in a General Motors College 4-year program to receive his Automotive Service Technician diploma. Even though he was making good money and had accomplished much, James was not satisfied with where he had landed. “I was teaching apprentices and that was rewarding but got to a point where that was it. I had gone as far as I could in this direction. And I was not happy,” James shares.

James’ path took a different direction when his girlfriend, who was moving to Nanaimo to attend VIU, convinced James to take the leap, get another job, and move with her to the west coast. He made the move and, although closer to his son, he was further away from anything he had ever known, and he found himself lonely and in a job he disliked.  He felt that his future looked bleak.

James’ life really began to change when he went to speak with a counsellor at VIU. After answering questions about his passions and upbringing, James unearthed several realities about his experience as a First Nations kid that shaped the way he approached his life and his opportunities. It was at this time that he realized that what he wanted to do was work with nature and wildlife. He was directed to the Aboriginal University Bridging Certificate – a customizable program for Indigenous students to acquire upgrades and prerequisites for post-secondary education programs.

During this year upgrading his math skills to enter the RMOT program, James discovered that he actually loved school. He had a penchant for learning and building community. “I joined so many groups that year. I couldn’t stop,” James remembers. “As I met more and more people like me, everything got brighter.”  It was through these connections that he was able to see how, as an Indigenous who to some does not “look” Indigenous, he had been ostracized by his community in Manitoba and had been seeking out belonging ever since. VIU is where he found this belonging and perspective for a new start.

Finally, armed with a new community and drive, James enrolled in the RMOT program – virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.  “It was really hard to start without setting foot in a classroom but, the pressures of studying during the times of COVID were eased a bit by the Indigenous Award he received from the BC Scholarship Society.  “It really helped with giving me a sense of calm and peace of mind. I was prepared to work during my studies but, was terrified of what that would do to my performance at school, especially under these new norms,” James shares. “The less I have to think about really works wonders. I’m thankful for all the help I have received.”

Well into his diploma program, James has been so inspired that he is now on the trajectory to acquire his BA in Resource Protection. And, he could not have done it without the help of his community, his hard work, his scholarships, and his courageous leap of faith to change his life. “There are a lot of fears people have when going back to school,” he shares. “What I’d say to anyone thinking about making a big change, going back to school, or just putting themselves out there is that there are people out there to support you if you just look for them. I didn’t know people like me existed but, I found them, and they helped me in ways I could not have imagined. So, give whatever it is you want to do a try…you’ll be surprised.”

We are honoured to be a part of his story and we wish James all the successes as he pursues his passion to protect the natural world that matters so much to all of us.

Brendan Eshom

Wonderfully assured for a 19-year-old, Indigenous Award recipient Brendan Eshom is as inspiring as he is easy to talk to. Currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science at UBC, Brendan is as confident in his choices as he is in his uncertainty about where his path will lead him. Exploring avenues from medicine to environmentalism, Brendan drives on with passion and determination, preserving his cultural heritage through passion projects that he loves.

Born and raised in Prince Rupert, Brendan is a member of the Gitga’at community of the Ts’msyen First Nation. With a business-owner father and accountant mother, he was never at a deficit for inspiration and guidance. Always encouraged to do his best and be whatever he wanted to be; Brendan received unwavering support at every turn. But this does not mean that he did not come up against obstacles along the way.

At age 6, Brendan developed a debilitating stutter. “I had diminishing self-esteem and self-confidence,” he shares. “I did not feel worthy of friends, let alone enjoy being in larger groups. Since school is a place where interaction is critical, I simply did not care much for attending.” Brendan’s parents enrolled him in speech therapy, where he worked tirelessly to manage his stutter and eventually eradicate it altogether.

By high school, Brendan was gaining confidence by the day. A huge turnaround from his younger years, he grew to love high school. A math and sciences aficionado with engaging classes and extracurriculars that included soccer, basketball, debating and even Toastmasters.  Brendan excelled. “The accomplishment of overcoming my speech impediment taught me that if you want something badly enough, you must be willing to pull down the barriers that hinder you from achieving your aspirations,” explains Brendan.

Perhaps it was this spirit and drive that pushed Brendan to one of his greatest achievements in his young life. Brendan’s mother and grandmother are from Hartley Bay, the Gitga’at community nestled in the Great Bear rainforest. It was here that he learned from his elders that the preservation of tradition and language is essential for passing cultural knowledge to future generations. His thirst for a deeper connection to his roots, combined with his undying quest for knowledge, motivated Brendan to create the Smalgyax Word of The Day website as his grade 12 special projects assignment. Each day, a new word from the Sm’algyax language is added to a curated collection of terms to help ensure that the language does not disappear along with the limited number of fluent speakers. Next, as part of the Prince Rupert And District Chamber of Commerce Rising Stars Program in 2020, Eshom went on to develop the Smalgyax Word App — which ranked at 104 of Apple’s top 200 apps for 2020.

Brendan Eshom has enjoyed great success but, not all his victories have come without hiccups. Wrongfully accusing the Smalgyax Word App of violating its policies, Apple took the app down from their store without any detailed explanation. But Brenda was not about to accept the situation with asking a few questions. After getting nowhere writing several emails to Apple to get more information, he finally got in touch with Global BC’s Consumer Matters. With a little heat applied by the media, Brendan’s app was back up and running with an apology from Apple to boot.

Brendan is still deciding where his university education will take him, but there is no doubt he will approach all his endeavors with integrity and passion. His attitude to the peaks and valleys in his young life are an inspiration to all of us. Driven with an unwavering positivity, Brendan urges anyone and everyone to apply for scholarships at every turn. “The Indigenous Award Program really helped me to avoid stress about how I’m going to get by,” Brendan shares. “I feel really fortunate to be able to focus more on my studies and passion projects. Would I be able to do the app if I had to work as well? Maybe not.”

His greatest advice to his peers and community is simple – do not be afraid to fail. “Failure is discouraging but, you shouldn’t be afraid of it” urges Brendan.  “Just apply for scholarships and awards and, if you don’t get them at first, don’t be discouraged, just learn from the experience.” “You have nothing to lose”, he adds.

We wish Brendan all the best and look forward to following him on his journey.


Alexyss Dieno

Indigenous Award winner, Alexyss Dieno, is a model of perseverance and a caring heart. Currently in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at Simon Fraser University, Alexyss plans to pursue a career in pediatrics to help children of all ages and abilities. Although faced with challenges along the way, she is thriving in her studies and hopes that her story may inspire other young girls to get into the study of science and technology and other male-dominated fields.

Originally from Kamloops, BC, Alexyss moved around a lot, transplanting to Burnaby and then later Surrey. Some would say that moving around so much would be a stressful and unrooted existence, but the ever-positive Dieno saw it as a great opportunity to meet new people. “I got to do so many things like going to multiple schools, having friends from all over, and opportunities like youth orchestras, and various interesting jobs along the way,” Dieno shares.

Originally disinterested in sciences as a young kid, Alexyss found her calling in the area as she began high school. “Throughout high school, and even in first year university, by far my favorite subject has been biology,” she gushes. “I loved learning about human anatomy and how the body works even down to the cellular level.”

This affinity for human biological systems and her love of children made a career in Pediatrics a natural fit. “Going into the medical field was a no-brainer,” Alexyss points out. Volunteering at multiple daycares with newborns to children in kindergarten and babysitting kids with Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, and other learning disabilities pointed Alexyss further toward a career in medicine. “I hope that I can one day help other kids like the ones I got to know when I was volunteering,” she expresses.

Choosing Simon Fraser University for its integrated health program was a big step for the doctor-to-be. Alexyss’ grades needed to be in good standing to get through. “I had my heart set on a Bachelor of Health Sciences because this program allows me to learn about not only the scientific aspect but the healthcare system too.”

This past year, however, has added a very 2020-specific additional set of challenges to an already intense workload — online classes. “I learn better when I am actually in the classroom, being able to communicate with other classmates to bounce ideas off of each other or to be able to talk to professors and Teaching Assistants in person,” Dieno explains. But she is an optimist and a dedicated woman that will not let these current realities slow her down.

This is one of the reasons being awarded an Indigenous Award has been so important for Dieno’s success. “Receiving this Award really helped calm my nerves about this school year,” she states. Alleviating financial stress has allowed her to better focus on her grades in this strange time of remote learning.

Dieno’s advice for others thinking about getting into the sciences is to “just take the leap and go for it!” An increasing number of women are getting into these fields. The gender-biased obstacles women face will only get easier as more women enroll and change the face of the medical and health care world.

We wish Alexyss Dieno all the best as she pursues her career in pediatrics. We can rest well knowing that the children of tomorrow will be well looked after by such bright, caring, and capable people as her.