Two Indigenous students from the area each received a scholarship for their community involvement, hard work and academic excellence.
Brooke Gelinas and Gregory Rickard are the recipients of Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) expanded John Wesley Beaver Scholarship Program. Shelby Empey from Kirkfield also received a scholarship.
OPG partnered with Indspire’s Building Brighter Futures Bursaries, Scholarships and Awards program to provide 20 Indigenous students $10,000 scholarships over the next three years.
Gelinas said she was excited and it was an honour to receive some financial relief considering she lives more than eight hours away from home.
A third-year student studying biology at University of Western, Gelinas is actively involved in the community.
This year, she started as a research assistant at the Exercise Mobility and Brain Health Lab assessing health behaviours during COVID-19 and the knowledge of dementia and dementia risk factors among Indigenous older adults.
At the moment, she’s in the process of recruiting about 40 participants for the study through posters and social media.
She hopes the study findings highlight areas for improved dementia literacy and healthy lifestyle resources for Indigenous population.
“These volunteer opportunities help me build more relationships with Indigenous older adults, ” Gelinas said.
She’s also an Infinite Reach Facilitator for the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO). As an upper-year post-secondary Métis student, she helps incoming students adjust to university life. In addition to holding Zoom calls with different high school students, she holds events on campus to tell students more about MNO.
For Gelinas, moving to London from Iroquois Falls was challenging, so she loves giving back in that way and immersing herself in the culture.
“It was more difficult for me coming from a small town and such a small high school,” she said. “First year was a great transition like living in residence, getting to know more people and beginning to get involved at Western and in the community. That was great to help me adapt to university life.”
At school, Gelinas is a part of the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion. She’s also the director of communications for the Global Health Equity Collective at Western University.
“We create meaningful research, engagement and personal development opportunities for students and community members. And I help with holding events on campus or in the community related to research, health equity and social inclusion,” she said.
In university, there are a lot more Métis students she can connect with and the Indigenous Students’ Association has been helpful with getting her immersed in cultural events, Gelinas said.
Being involved allows her to connect with new students and faculty members, she said. To new students, she would advise getting involved right from the start.
When she’s done school, her goal is to go into dentistry and return to the north.
“We’re lacking dentists around here and a lot of people up north have trouble getting dental care, so that’s my primary purpose for coming back,” she said. “I just hope to give back to Indigenous people in remote rural communities in general.”
Born and raised in Moose Factory, Rickard is a former Nishnawbe Aski Police officer now studying human resources at Confederation College. He also used to work as a child protection worker before he got into policing.
Rickard said he was excited honoured to receive the scholarship.
“I’ve always been interested in helping people,” he said.
He started his career with the police force in Attawapiskat before transferring to Moose Factory. Working and living in his home community as a police officer was challenging, he said. He struggled with PTSD but he had professional help along with his family's support.
Wanting a change in career, Rickard decided pursuing human resources was one way to contribute back to the community.
One of Rickard’s biggest goals is to encourage youth to explore what the world has to offer, and basketball was one way to do that.
He has about 20 years of basketball volunteer experience varying from coaching, organizing tournaments and camps, and reffing.
Before the pandemic, he wanted to get involved in the basketball community in Moose Factory. He was able to organize two youth basketball teams to play in a local tournament. His goal is to travel to other First Nation communities with the youth.
Working with a local youth department, Rickard also recently organized a high school basketball clinic in Moose Factory.
“We gave the Moose Factory youth an opportunity to work on skill development, basketball drills, team skills, preparing them for improving basketball skills,” he said.
After graduation, he hopes to stay within northeastern Ontario, working for a First Nations organization in the HR capacity and helping Indigenous communities.
“I like to be involved with First Nations people, also helping them reach their goals, working in the community. Local people serving local people,” he said.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com