Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Indigenous bursary furthers reconciliation’s path

  • April 25, 2022

A new bursary is helping to defray the cost of post-secondary education for Indigenous students within the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Administered through the board’s official charity, the Angel Foundation for Learning (AFL), the Student Bursary for Indigenous Youth is co-sponsored by the TCDSB Department of Equity, Diversity, Indigenous Education and Community Relations. Two bursaries each of $5,000 are available to graduating First Nations, Inuit and Métis students who are registered in the board and require financial assistance to pursue post-secondary studies. Selections will be made based on students outstanding contributions to their school community.

John Yan, executive director of the AFL, says the initiative was birthed after the board’s observance on Sept. 30, 2021 of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Applications will be reviewed by a board selection committee. The deadline for submission is April 29 with successful candidates expected to be notified in early June. 

Funding has been secured for at least the next three years, totalling a minimum commitment of $30,000.

“The (bursary) is based on my personal belief that the Angel Foundation has a role to play in ensuring every child matters,” said Yan. “The journey to any meaningful truth and reconciliation lies in education and opening doors to global conversations on all aspects of the tragic legacy of residential schools. Only through learning opportunities that facilitate difficult discussions about the past can we hope to build bridges with each other to achieve real truth and reconciliation.”

Frank Pio, Indigenous education resource teacher with the board, has been a long-standing advocate for Indigenous education. When Yan approached Pio with the bursary idea, he jumped at the opportunity. The bursary commitment, Pio says, goes hand in hand with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 62 with regard to pursuing education in a more positive manner for Indigenous students.

Pio runs a summer camp for Indigenous students and has gotten to know many of the 26 Grade 12 students that qualify for this year’s bursary. Individual letters have been sent out to each student.

Pio’s Indigenous teaching journey began in 1978 working with Indigenous groups in Peru. When he returned to Canada in the 1980s and 1990s he began working with the Ojibwe and Cree peoples on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario.

Working on his doctorate at New York University in the 1990s, his dissertation explored ways of creating schools that combined Indigenous ways of knowing with non-Indigenous. At the time there was very little understanding of the importance of Indigenous ways of knowing in the education system.

The increasing recognition of Indigenous cultural values marks a significant moment in the nation’s history and journey towards healing of which the bursary is a part of, said Pio.

“It’s always been my interest to further the understanding of the importance of (Indigenous way of knowing) in our board,” said Pio. “Even though it hasn’t been an easy journey, it’s been very rewarding. This Indigenous bursary was almost like the next step that was needed in our board to show our commitment with not only the TRC but with the Indigenous community.”

The board has come a long way in coming to terms with the history of the dark chapter with residential schools and finding ways to work with Indigenous communities. Pio has been deeply impacted and drawn to Indigenous knowledge and teaching and wanted to hopefully draw others. He has learned through conversations with elders in the community that rebuilding trust is foundational in the journey to healing. He believes that the papal apology is part of the beginning of movement in the right direction.

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