Student Type: Indigenous Award Recipient

Raven Fawkes

Follow Your Passion, Never Give Up, Build Your Support System

Raven Fawkes is a determined and passionate individual with deep connections to her community and a desire to combat and repair the damage done by colonialism. Raven, a member of the member of the Métis Nation, is studying Social Work at Camosun College, inspired by her mother who spent many years as a social worker.

A recipient of a BC Indigenous Student Award, Raven has overcome obstacles and challenges to follow her passion to find meaningful work in service to Indigenous people.

Raven’s story begins in Prince George where she established a deep connection with nature and food systems. A move to Victoria instilled in her a value of education and the belief that she could achieve her academic and career aspirations. “Many of the families my friends came from were educated and middle class. I think this opened my eyes to a different way of life, having come from a family where both sides have been negatively impacted by colonization, where struggles with mental health and addiction have been the norm and where even graduating from high school has been rare,” she explains.

As Raven navigated high school, escalating family challenges contributed to difficulties beyond the experience of most teens. Even though she is highly intelligent with an interest in learning ‘anything and everything’, Raven’s family circumstances and a belief that she would never be able to afford post-secondary education, led to her dropping out. “I wish I had met someone at that time who could have told me how many resources I’d have access to,” she laments.

Eventually Raven decided, that despite the seemingly impossible odds, she had to try. She enrolled again, completed high school, and headed to UBC. “My first vision was to become a midwife who would provide culturally safe care to Indigenous families, but after some time in the UBC midwifery program, I realized the lifestyle was not the right fit for me,” Raven says.

After some time, rumination, and inspiration from her mother Raven found her calling in social work. This career path would allow her to do the work she was passionate about: combatting and repairing the damage done by colonialism, genocidal assimilatory policies, intergenerational trauma, and systemic racism. “I quickly registered for classes to complete a Bachelor of Social Work at Camosun College. Its core value of social justice and the diverse career paths one can take made it a natural fit for me,” Raven says.

Once a tireless perfectionist, Raven has been able to reflect and spend time on renegotiating practices that no longer serve her and, by proxy, her community. Rather than sweating the small stuff Raven says she is now “focusing on doing the best work I can do and using feedback to grow and strengthen my future work.”

Raven’s BC Indigenous Student Award provided enough financial support to allow Raven to focus on her studies, her volunteer work with the MY (Métis Youth) Eco Action program and a healthy practice of mental wellness. “I have had the opportunity to focus on self-care – including more movement into my week, like walking, strength training, and yoga,” says Raven.

Given the opportunity to provide guidance to other prospective students like her, Raven has three pieces of advice to share:

Follow your passion: Even if you think you might not succeed, follow your passion. Furthermore, it is okay to follow dreams down one path and change your mind if it is no longer right for you.”

Don’t ever give up: “I was afraid at times I would not succeed in school and I have ‘fallen down’ many times on this journey. You can strive for whatever you dream to do and even if you do not succeed at first, you can learn from the experience of trying and come back stronger the next year.”

Build your support system: “The western education system can be a challenging place for Indigenous students to navigate and get through. For me, it has been so important to stay connected with friends and family who support me, as well as reaching out to support at school, like teachers, academic advisors, and counsellors. I have also found it important to connect with the Creator and my ancestors to help keep me rooted.”

Mateen Hessami

Driven by enthusiasm for community, collaboration and conservation 

Motivated by a deep appreciation for nature, wildlife, and people, Indigenous Award Recipient Mateen Hessami is on his path toward protecting and conserving the ecosystems that are vital to many North American communities. A first-year master’s student in Biology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO), Mateen plans to bridge his cultural heritage and ethical framework as an Indigenous person with his education in western wildlife science. With an aspiration to work with First Nations governments, this young scientist, humanist, and animal-lover is a force of positivity and natural born leader.

Born in Richmond, British Columbia, Mateen Hessami spent the first part of his life in the concrete jungles of Vancouver. It was in Idaho, where he regularly visited his uncle, that Mateen really found his calling in life. In the beautiful backcountry of northern Idaho, Mateen learned about hunting, fishing, camping, the ethics surrounding hunting practice, and his identity as an Indigenous person. “That is where I became deeply captivated in a career in wildlife biology. I remember questioning everything. Did the roads we walked on affect the deer and elk we hunted? How do mammals survive harsh winters? I owe a lot to my uncle for being a great mentor to me,” Mateen shares.

Despite his love of Idaho, Mateen chose to study in Kelowna at UBCO because, as Mateen explains, “UBCO understands the importance of First Nations perspectives in higher learning and natural resource management.” With a focus on traditional ecological knowledge Mateen wanted to apply these methodologies to management regimes in Western Canada, specifically with culturally keystone species like moose, caribou, or salmon.

Mateen’s greatest hope as an emerging scientist and committed conservationist was to foster the imperative connection between culture and science. “My career and life goals are to work for a First Nations government and contribute to holistic, tactful management of natural resources while establishing and maintaining collaborative agreements between provincial agencies.”

But before he could get there, Mateen needed some assistance to follow his dreams. “Finances were a barrier for me as I quickly became independent of my parents when I was finished with high school. A lack of financial security forced me to become creative and diligent with securing funding for my education,” Mateen explains. “The Irving K. Barber Indigenous Award has been a tremendous help to me. It has allowed me to stay focused on school and extracurricular community involvement and has been huge in alleviating extra pressures.”

Now in his first year of his master’s, Mateen is examining the harvest of moose in caribou recovery area Lake Revelstoke Valley, BC. In addition to graduate school research, Mateen beams most about his community-related accomplishments. “I am most proud of my extracurricular involvement relating to conservation and my indigenous culture,” Mateen shares. “I served as president of UM’s Native American Student Advisory Council for two years from 2015-2017 and led an effort to amend our Native American student code. I have held leadership positions for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers student chapters at both the University of Montana and currently at UBCO. I was also nominated as a student advisory council department representative to provide recommendation to the dean and university government regarding policies that affect my colleagues.”

As incredible and perhaps even daunting as his list of accomplishments may seem, Mateen’s advice to young people in science is not necessarily what you would think. “A lot of early, emerging students brush over this, thinking the key to be a good scientist is your ability to solve complex problems,” Mateen shares. “However, an arguably more important skill is how you interact with your peers, especially as an earlier scientist — relationships are fundamental to advancing and building connections that are key for your success.”

We have no doubt that Mateen’s enthusiasm for community and conservation combined with his magnetic personality will lead him to great success — and we at the IKB Scholarship Society couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of his story.

Christa Lester

Determination – the key for future pediatric surgeon

Determination is a central theme for Indigenous Award winner and future pediatric surgeon Christa Lester. With no time to waste, the science major and former cadet has made strides in her quest to help young people in need, learning many lessons about focus, discipline, and when to let go. Along the way, the Irving K Barber Scholarship Society and their Indigenous Award Program has helped Christa to realize her dreams of achieving a Bachelor of Science at Thomson Rivers University so she can write the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and pursue a career in medicine.

Growing up in Kamloops, BC in a household where she had to assume responsibility at a young age, Christa is no stranger to hard work. With busy and sometimes absent parents, Christa realized at the age of 12 that someone was going to have to look after her sisters and that someone was going to have to be her. Christa’s childhood challenges only strengthened her determination to make a difference for youth in need. “I think my desire to become a pediatric surgeon stems from looking after my younger sisters while I was growing up,” Christa shares. “I want to do all I can to make sure all children live happy and healthy lives, something I struggled with growing up.”

As a teen, aside from looking after her siblings, joining cadets, and taking a leadership position at her church, the lifelong lover of math and science found that high school wasn’t giving her enough of a challenge. “In grade 10, I decided to apply to the international baccalaureate diploma program at my high school. The honours classes I was taking at the time were still fairly easy,” Christa explains. But it turned out to be more than she was expecting. “After being accepted I was shocked by how much more work I had to put in and I quickly learned that I could no longer get by without studying.” But, never one to quit or crumble under pressure, she managed to overcome her obstacles with focus, grit, and dedication. “I had to teach myself how to study after 10 years of never having to do it, but I kept my grades up and obtained the principal’s list each year with a gold cord at graduation.”

Christa’s work ethic didn’t stop at high school — she is currently a volunteer instructor at her local cadet corps and is still an integral participator in her church. “Each week I teach cadets everything from leadership to knowledge needed in naval environments to goal setting and other critical lessons for youth. I do this to give back to a program that has given me many assets I have used to succeed in school and in life,” Christa shares. “I am also an altar server, reader, and choir member as well as a youth group leader and mentor at my church. I run games and prayer at our monthly meetings and volunteer as much as possible to be an active parishioner on Sundays.”

Along with all her accolades and accomplishments, Christa has learned one of the most important lessons that many overachievers overlook — you can’t do it all yourself and sometimes you need a little assistance. Christa’s biggest barrier between her and her dream to become a pediatric surgeon was paying for university tuition and fees. That’s when Christa decided to apply for the Indigenous Award. “I got into my school of choice with an entrance scholarship that covered my tuition, but I still had to find the money for books and supplies. The Indigenous Award helped pay for my books and other fees,” explains Christa. “It has made it so that I do not have to work as often and can concentrate more on my studies.”

Currently in the second year of her science degree, Christa is on her way to her MCAT and medical school. Her biggest accomplishment to date is maintaining a full course load, working and keeping her grades up. Not an easy feat. That all being said, she urges young people in her position to make sure they make time for things outside of school. “Do not let your setbacks bring you down. A bad grade isn’t the end of the world it just means you do better next time. You do not have to be a straight-A student all the time. Take space to get volunteer experience, join school clubs and do other things that expand your life experience. Those things are sometimes the most valuable.”

We know Christa will make a great doctor and continue to be a valued leader in her community. We are honoured to be part of her story.

 

Liam Robertson

It all boils down to the same thing — family

If you ask Liam Robertson about his career, his goals, his passions and why he applied for the Indigenous Award, it will all boil down to the same thing — family. Motivated by community support, providing for his future family and offering mentorship to first nations youth, the Indigenous Award has played a key role in helping Liam achieve his goal to study law. Liam believes that the success of his community and family both depend on support and guidance from a strong leader with valuable skills. A leader, he hopes, like him.

Born in Langley BC and transported to Kamloops at a young age, Liam grew up with strong family values and a practical mindset. Without the distractions of a big city, the tight knit BC interior community fostered a set of values into Liam’s fabric that taught him about the kind of experience he wanted to provide for the people in his life.

Liam considers himself privileged to have grown up with parents that were not as oppressed as many and that did not have to suffer the injustices and pain of residential schools. He takes his fortunate circumstance seriously, believing that great privilege comes hand-in-hand with great responsibility. Having a healthy home environment and relative economic stability gave Liam the clarity and courage to believe he could build skills that would enable him to give back to his community. He chose law as his career path so that he could provide equal opportunity to first nations communities in need of counsel and mentorship. “It is important as a first nations student not only to be a positive representation of my elders, family and heritage,” Liam states, “but go further and be impactful in my home, my community and my relationships.”

Equipped with the confidence and drive to support his community, Liam took the leap and left his home in Kamloops to move to the Lower Mainland so that he could follow his passion and study law at UBC. “Leaving the relationships and memories of the past to pursue a higher degree of education expanded my capacity to learn and grow,” Liam shares. “The transition into a new university, new culture, and new city was not easy.” But he knew it would be worth it. Despite the difficulty of leaving home and the pressures of studying law, the desire to make change and support his future family pushed him ahead.

Since beginning his degree, Liam has made his mark and is very at home in his new surroundings. “I stuck it out making new friends, succeeding academically and even made the Dean’s list,” Liam glows. Liam has also since been asked to sit on the board of the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society and is the leader of strategic planning and marketing for the organization. He is driven to provide mentorship to young men on how to treat women, their elders, and how their words and actions have value. He believes that giving back will have a long and lasting impact within his community, thus furthering the progress of reconciliation.

Incredible and inspirational as his successes are, it is important to note that Liam believes anyone can achieve their goals if they work hard, live with passion and always reach out for support when it’s needed. “During a large portion of my undergraduate degree I could not afford textbooks so this award gave me the boost I needed to be able to focus on my studies and be properly equipped,” Liam explains. “Education is a great vehicle to get where you want to go. No matter what you want in life, you’ll find it helps to start by developing a skill. The Indigenous Award helped put me in a position where I could shine and be successful.”

Liam is a bright, enthusiastic and enigmatic person. His zest for life and desire to lead is inherent in his character and that positive drive with the aid of the Indigenous Award has given him the ability to realize his goals. “I want my family legacy to be love, kindness and compassion,” he shares. “It is never going to be about how much money you make, how big your house is, or what kind of car you drive. I want people to remember my family name because of the impact we made and how we valued and respected people.” When asked what advice Liam would give to his younger self given the chance, he replied: “Little sacrifices now allows room for big things to come.” We are certain that there are big things coming for Liam’s future. With a big family to boot, no doubt.

 

Shane Baker

“Maybe I can be that person for someone and make that difference”

Shane Baker attributes his drive to give back to the incredible support of his family over many challenging years. “Not everybody has that, and maybe I can be that person for someone and make that difference.”

In addition to his parents’ incredible love and dedication, the Irving K. Barber Indigenous Award has been crucial for Shane’s recent life and success in two ways. First, it enabled him to buy a bed that helps to manage his chronic pain, “It changed my life”. Also, Shane was able to purchase adaptive software that reads documents to him so he can pursue his education independently. Read on to learn more about this determined and authentic person.

As a child, Shane and his mother moved to Victoria. Métis and from the Gitxsan Nation, he always felt a strong connection to home. During early adulthood, Shane engaged in the party lifestyle, and he began to feel disconnected from his culture.

Shane started working in graphic design, but he also got into heavy binge drinking and drugs. Everything changed one night in 2003. In a drunken haze he does not recall, Shane fell two stories from the Yates Street parkade. He woke up a month later, after having been in a medically-induced coma, with multiple injuries, a traumatic brain injury, staples from ear to ear, and he was blind. “They didn’t know what to do with me, to be honest,” he shares.

Recovery was slow and frustrating. Shane moved in with his mom and stepdad for several months. The following year, he developed epilepsy from the traumatic brain injury. Shane also became addicted to Oxycodone, which he had very reluctantly taken to manage the chronic pain from  the accident. This led him back to drinking and other drug use. But this time, his mother confronted him. She and his stepdad had almost lost him once, and they were afraid they were losing him again. This hit home and Shane quit everything within three days. He became involved with Indigenous youth conferences and connected with other young Indigenous people who had gone through challenges as well. Shane also began exploring his own identity with elders and traditional medicine for the first time since he was young—it was profound. Shane was compelled to create and deliver talks and workshops to Indigenous youth on substance abuse and mental health across Canada. It was important work, but telling his story over and over was wearing, and his social anxiety proved very challenging. Shane decided he could no longer continue travelling and delivering workshops.

Over the next four years, Shane experienced several health challenges, including many bouts of deep depression. One day, he decided that he was “going to start living again”.  Shane reached out to an elder and began using the medicine wheel to improve his overall wellness. In 2016, Shane participated in the Buffalo Riders Training Program, a training program for people who work with Indigenous youth with interventions and support to reduce substance use behaviour. Upon completion of this training, he pitched the program to the local school district. The following year, Shane facilitated his first Buffalo Riders Training Program to a group of First Nations middle school students. This program was school-based and designed for Indigenous youth. It blended mindfulness, some basic cognitive behaviour therapy, and culturally-relevant activities based on the medicine wheel and other elements of Indigenous culture.  Shane also developed a series of cultural sessions and volunteered with a Victoria middle school to assist teachers in their Indigenous Education classes. The sessions took place in a sharing circle. They included education about the residential school system, the potlatch (Indigenous governance systems), smudging, the medicine wheel and the value of spending time in nature. He met many youths with little connection to their heritage and Shane recognized the importance of knowing where you come from and who you are. Self-love, kindness and strength come from this connection.

Recognizing an affinity for both teaching and working with youth, Shane decided to pursue a degree in social work. He started at Camosun College in the Indigenous Studies Diploma Program. However, as a person with chronic pain, social anxiety, and visual impairment, entering college presented multiple unique barriers.  As a student, Shane has made full use of the many supports the college provides to Indigenous students.

In September 2020, Shane will transfer to Uvic into Social Work, Indigenous Stream. He is considering mental health and addiction and teaching at the college level, which would require a Masters. As a student with disabilities, two classes constitutes full time. With his attitude, determination and the adaptive tools to support his success, we are thrilled to be part of his journey. You’re an inspiration, Shane.

Matthew Montgomery

How staying true to your interests will always lead you in the right direction

Q & A with Matthew Montgomery, Bachelor of Education, Simon Fraser University

Not everyone’s path to a career is a straight shot. And so it is for Metis student Matthew Montgomery of Port Coquitlam, BC, who has shifted gears a couple of times during his post-secondary education. Happily, however, each shift has brought him closer to his goal: to make a lasting impact in the lives of young humans as a classroom teacher.

We caught up with Matthew to ask him a few questions about his future plans.

Q: Why have you chosen Education as your career path?

A: It’s always been something that I have wanted to do. Throughout high school teaching always sparked my interest. Initially I wasn’t going to do it because at the time when I graduated, teaching in BC was not the greatest job to get into. So I ended up going into Business . . . and I hated it! I worked hard and got okay grades — and came out of the experience stronger and with a more positive attitude toward my education, but I decided to transfer out and find my passion again. I just started taking some courses and ended up in the Education path again!

Q: Proof that staying true to your desires is powerful stuff.

A: It all worked out in the end! Teaching is now a great profession to get into because they are desperate for new teachers! I’m absolutely loving it and I’m in the elementary stream.

Q: What social problem are you most interested in helping to solve once you get out there into the career world?

A: I think the issue of gender equality is a huge one for me, specifically LGBTQ issues in schools. I think that’s a really big focus right now in the school districts, and it’s something that I feel very passionate about. Making sure that all my students in my classroom — and in the school and community — have a feeling of acceptance and safety. No matter who they are, no matter who they want to be, what they want to be, who they want to identify as, that everyone is comfortable with just being that, and feels safe in being who they are.

Q: And are you working right now at the same time as going to school?

A: Yes. Right now, I’m just working on Sunday mornings at my job. I work at Wal-Mart. I’ve worked there for years. I work in the accounting office. It’s been a great part time job as it gives me that little bit of extra money for gas for my car, and just a bit of spending money. It’s a nice change of pace to get my mind off of school and to get out.

Q: So here you are in the accounting office, yet you didn’t want to pursue a business degree!

A: Yeah, right? I know, it seems odd. But I’ve worked there coming up to eight years. I did the whole front-end thing; I was a cashier, and customer service manager, so it just was a natural switch to get into accounting there. It’s not super accounting-heavy, and it helps that I have experience at the front end so I know how money flows throughout the store.

Q: How has the Indigenous Award helped you on your path?

A: It’s $5000 a year for up to four years. I’ve gotten it three times now. It helps bigtime. It covers about a semester and a half, because my semesters are about $3500 when all is said and done. It’s amazing. It’s a huge help.

Thanks, Matthew. We wish you all the best as you bring your warm and accepting personality into the elementary school classroom.