When Jenny Waldner was in Grade 3 she already knew two things: she wanted to attend UNBC and her family could never afford to send her.
Even then she knew the reality behind the myth that Aboriginal people got a free education. She was living in a crime-ridden area of Prince George, her family was not connected to financial independence, and if she wanted the dream of a university education to come true it would have to be some other way.
Today, at 30, the Metis mother of two is holding down two part-time jobs and is in her fourth year of studies, almost finished her UNBC degree in social work. She did it, she said, because of a funding agency called Indspire - an agency so helpful to her that she is now working for them.
"Indspire has awarded me nearly $40,000 for my education over the years I've been in university," she said. She has incurred a small amount of student debt, but well lower than the national average and reasonable to manage once out in the workforce with her credentials.
She has plans to embark on a masters degree almost immediately.
"Indspire offers hope to indigenous students who think completing school is impossible," she said.
"Especially when some people believe that all indigenous students receive funding from the federal government to cover their full costs of attending post secondary school or training. While it is true that the government does fund some post secondary education, the reality is that there is not enough money and not everyone who is indigenous has fair or adequate access. Being a part of Indspire allows me to deconstruct some of the societal misconceptions associated with indigenous educational opportunities."
The deadline for the next round of funding packages is Nov. 1. The agency (the only one officially recommended by the federal government for supplemental education funding) will be distributing about $10 million this year across Canada.
"It's pretty straightforward," said Waldner of the application process. You have to submit your school transcripts (marks aren't typically a deciding factor, but proof of attendance in school is), your proof of Aboriginal status (including First Nations, Metis and Inuit), and some specific materials depending on which stream of funding you request. The Indspire people do not disqualify applicants if they have student loans or other forms of funding, but they do expect a general budget of the estimated costs you might face. Also, you have to write a letter of introduction explaining their situation and reasons for financial assistance.
"One thing the students sometimes feel scared about is the introduction letter. It is your chance to sell yourself, and they provide a guide so you can look it over and know what they are looking for," she said.
"Elaborate. Provide details. Be realistic. Write your intro letter as if you were writing a term paper and wanting that A. Proof read it, edit and make everything flow well together. This is the only opportunity the judge has to get to know you, your accomplishments and future goals. You want to make every word count."
Some of the scholarships and bursaries are earmarked for students pursuing health studies, some for trades/tech professions, fine arts, law, general post-secondary education, there are even opportunities for high-school students interested in learning about business.
Indspire used to be called the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation but recently changed its name.
To find out more, visit the Indspire website or meet Waldner personally at her upcoming information booths. She will be at CNC on Friday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Monday at UNBC (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and you can email questions to waldn...@unbc.ca.