Tia Stanley grew up not knowing much about her Indigenous roots.
One thing she did know was that her grandma was a member of the Cote First Nation on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.
“I called my grandma ‘kokum’ which is a Cree, or Saulteaux, word, but she didn’t really talk about her culture much,” says Stanley, a social worker in child welfare for a Métis organization, and a recent graduate of Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C.
Today, however, she feels much more in touch with her Indigenous roots, as well as her other identities: Chinese Canadian, social worker and academic researcher.
Stanley says she owes much of her confidence in who she is to an innovative Indigenous research program at TRU called the Knowledge Makers. This academic initiative is aimed at helping Indigenous learners connect with Indigenous ways of knowing and being, then helping them infuse those learnings in their research.
The Knowledge Makers is among two areas at TRU that got a recent boost in support by BMO Financial Group, which announced $750,000 in scholarships, bursaries and awards for Indigenous students in both that program and the School of Nursing. The gift is a contribution to TRU’s Limitless campaign to raise $50-million, pushing the total beyond $46-million to date.
“For several years at BMO, we’ve had a very public, stated commitment to Indigenous communities, including supporting higher learning,” says Paul Seipp, head of business banking for Western region at BMO. “What better way to demonstrate this commitment than partnering with TRU’s Knowledge Makers program and School of Nursing, which will help so many Indigenous students go on to enrich and serve their communities?”
The multi-year funding commitment, providing scholarships to dozens of students annually, will enhance the post-secondary experience of Indigenous students at both TRU’s Kamloops and Williams Lake campuses in British Columbia’s interior.
“Nursing is a particularly demanding program for students as they may come from remote communities, and then find themselves working practicums in other communities, with travel and accommodations costs on top of tuition and typical post-secondary expenses,” says Rani Srivastava, dean of the School of Nursing at TRU. “So these awards will be instrumental, concrete financial support for students.”
Seipp says BMO chose to provide scholarship money to Indigenous students at the nursing school in part because of its growing reputation as a leader in Indigenous ways of learning.
“I saw the work TRU was doing with Indigenous communities within health care,” he says. “And at BMO, we believe this is a way to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action number 92, which calls for corporate Canada to promote Indigenous education, employment and economic empowerment.”
TRU’s School of Nursing incorporates Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the curriculum, and is a leader in Indigenous-centred health research. Earlier this year, TRU’s Dr. Lisa Bourque Bearskin was one of six researchers awarded an Indigenous Research Chair in Nursing from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – the only B.C. researcher to receive the prestigious honour.
Meanwhile, BMO’s support for the Knowledge Makers will help raise the profile of Indigenous-led, Indigenous-focused research in Canada.
“Knowledge Makers is a workshop for Indigenous students in any discipline at TRU to learn how to write a research paper and have their research published in an academic research journal,” explains Sandra Bandura, associate director of TRU’s All My Relations Research Centre, which coordinates the program. “But it’s much more than that.”
The Knowledge Makers incorporates Indigenous learning principles, such as a focus on connectedness and a sense of place. In addition, students are led and supported by Elders and former alumni who are Indigenous researchers themselves.
The program helps learners discover their voices, says Bandura, and then assists them in adding their voices to a body of academic research that has for too long lacked Indigenous perspectives.
“The thing about Indigenous research in the past is that it was something done on Indigenous people, rather than Indigenous people generating research themselves,” says Bandura, who is a Knowledge Makers alumna.
After completing an undergrad in mathematics and pursuing her Master of Education at TRU, Bandura recalls being “terrified by the idea of writing a research paper.” The Knowledge Makers program appealed to her as an Indigenous student, offering a safe space to explore the intersection of more traditional academic writing and research with Indigenous learnings.
“It was life-changing because I overcame my fear of writing,” she says, adding that her research focus was the impact of Knowledge Makers itself on Indigenous research.
For Tia Stanley, Knowledge Makers offered a safe space to explore her identity, which was the focus of her research.
“It’s truly reconciliation in action,” she says. “Knowledge Makers is a small but mighty force for making room for Indigenous learners at the table of academic research.”
The support from BMO is heartening, add Stanley, because it will help strengthen Indigenous learning at TRU.
“This helps normalize Indigenous people in academia,” she says. “It’s a way of stating that we’re here and our ways of doing things are just as valuable as other ways of learning and research.”
This donation brings BMO’s contributions to the Limitless campaign to $1.35-million. In 2013, BMO donated $600,000 to support the revitalization of TRU’s Old Main building. Since then, TRU students have started their post-secondary journey on BMO Student Street. For more on Limitless, visit tru.ca/limitless.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.