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Emilee Bews, a recipient of McGill’s McCall MacBain scholarship.Handout

At an Indigenous literature class at the University of Calgary, Emilee Bews was enchanted by her teacher’s traits: strong, passionate, unapologetic, and extremely proud of her Indigenous heritage.

She then visited the teacher during her office hours. For the first time in a long while, Ms. Bews added, “I am Ojibwe,” as part of her self-introduction.

“It was something that I wasn’t necessarily ashamed of growing up, but it was something I didn’t know about,” said Ms. Bews, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Through working with her teacher and learning about Indigenous history in Canada in a postsecondary institution, Ms. Bews began to reconnect with her culture. And that created a desire in her to help and empower other Indigenous students who’ve been through the same journey.

Ms. Bews, who’s completing her undergraduate degree focusing on English and Indigenous literatures, has been volunteering as an Indigenous student peer mentor at the University of Calgary. She has previously served on Calgary’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls committee.

And now her efforts have been noticed. She, along with 20 other scholars from 17 universities across Canada, has been named a McCall MacBain scholar. The group, recognized for their inspiring leadership and resilience stories, will pursue postsecondary studies at McGill University in Montreal.

“I realized that I had missed so much from not being connected to my culture. And that was something that I would like to do my part to advocate to help,” she noted.

Ms. Bews, who will pursue a master’s of arts in education and society at McGill, said she wants to continue supporting Indigenous student learning and advocating for better representation of Indigenous cultures in education. Ultimately, the 22-year-old wants to work in curriculum development and educational policy.

Recipient Janelle Brown-Walkus, who grew up in Maple Ridge, B.C., has been admitted to the professional undergraduate dental program at McGill.

While pursuing her undergraduate studies at McGill, Ms. Brown-Walkus helped run AISES, a campus group for Indigenous students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and co-ordinated First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth outreach for the Let’s Talk Science chapter.

“Among Indigenous communities, there’s not a lot of punch toward going into STEM fields. So it’s really exciting to go in and bring in both science and math and also bring in Indigenous worldviews or Indigenous sciences,” she said.

During her graduate studies at University of Toronto, Ms. Brown-Walkus wrote a thesis on First Nations perceptions of quality preventive oral health care in First Nations communities.

Ms. Brown-Walkus said she wanted to be a dentist since she was 10 because she likes to work with people, to improve health, and to work with her hands. She hopes to return to an Indigenous community after graduation. Given the importance of patient-practitioner interactions and the high turnover of dentists in Indigenous communities, she said it’s significant to have someone who is consistently there.

“I would like to be that dentist,” she noted.

Kathleen Taylor, chair of the board at Royal Bank of Canada, is among more than 130 Canadian leaders who volunteer their time selecting McCall MacBain Scholars.

Interview committees were looking for integrity, courage, curiosity, kindness and the motivation to work toward meaningful change, Ms. Taylor said.

“In a country as big and diverse as Canada, these qualities can manifest themselves in many different ways,” she said.

The scholarship program, launched in 2019 with a $200-million fund provided by philanthropists John and Marcy McCall MacBain, will add 10 new international scholarships for an expanded cohort of 30 scholars next year.

Other recipients are:

Hannah Beddow: Has worked for three years in a student residence at Queen’s University, where she is studying life sciences as a Chernoff Family Scholar.

Linda Bui: Works in government relations at the Council of Ontario Universities and co-founded several youth engagement initiatives.

Bryden Bukich: Pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology, specializing in Indigenous health education, at the University of Manitoba and works part-time for the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.

Sandrine Desforges: Has served three terms with the federation of student associations at the University of Montreal, including two terms as secretary-general.

Sage Duquette: A political science student at Concordia University, he led an honours society and helped shift its focus to student projects and fundraising for social causes.

Yasmine Elmi: Enrolled in the University of Ottawa’s faculty of medicine. She also co-founded an initiative that matched more than 100 first-year students to peer mentors.

Anna Gaudet: Serves as a board director and Metro Halifax adviser, supervising a team of 20 youth for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association.

Aastha Goyal: President of the Engineering Undergraduate Society at McGill, leading a team that oversees more than 60 student clubs, committees and teams.

Michelle Hahn-Baker: A McGill English literature grad, she has been working in communications for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Anmol Kaur: An international studies student at York University Glendon, she joined her university’s research apprenticeship program and serves as its student ambassador.

Julian Lam: Contributor to University of British Columbia’s International Relations Student Association for more than two years, creating a podcast, managing external relations, and organizing a speaker series.

Nikaela Lange: A recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She works as the youth program co-ordinator at the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute.

Sidney Leggett: Completing a bachelor of science in applied computer science at the University of Winnipeg. She built the website of .caISES, a campus group for Indigenous students in STEM.

Martha Pitre: In her final year at Mount Allison University, she worked as the editor-in-chief of the university’s independent student newspaper.

Portia Rayner: A mechanical engineering student at the University of Alberta. She seeks to encourage young women to pursue studies in STEM.

William Stephenson: He was enrolled in McMaster’s new integrated business and humanities program. He mobilized a team of 25 student ambassadors to support the program’s recruitment initiatives.

Shirley Wang:, Once the managing editor of the McGill International Review. She also led the McGill delegation at the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.

Brady Yano: The senior adviser to B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and has worked in policy and politics.

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