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Louis Riel Bursaries – meet the talented Métis students

From left to right: Nathalie Turenne, Megan Lindell, Rielle Miller, Mackenzie Stewart, and Aaron Sobkowich

On this Louis Riel Day, The University of Winnipeg is proud to celebrate the achievements of 90 Métis students who were awarded Louis Riel Bursaries during the 2021-22 academic year. Since 1999, the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and its educational arm, the Louis Riel Institute (LRI), through funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, have provided more than $2 million in bursaries to Métis students attending UWinnipeg.

“Through our partnership with the Manitoba Métis Federation, we are proud to support Métis students studying at The University of Winnipeg as they work to achieve their academic dreams,” said Dr. James Currie, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor. “Whether it’s working to save endangered species, promoting human rights, helping reverse the effects of climate change, or becoming a university professor, this year’s recipients will be — and already are — making important impacts in their communities.”

Approximately 10 per cent of UWinnipeg students self-identify as Indigenous, and half of those students are Métis — among the highest participation rates across Canada.

Rielle Miller – Human Rights

Rielle Miller wants to carve out a career path in human rights.

After arriving at UWinnipeg to study environmental sciences in 2015, she took a break from her studies and returned in 2019 with a fresh perspective. After taking various arts courses, she fell in love with the human rights program and knew that it was perfect for her.

Rielle Miller

“I officially switched my degree only a month into my studies,” she said. “This was a very important period in my life because I stumbled upon this field of knowledge that sparked immense attention and interest.”

During her first few years of studies, Miller didn’t know there were funding opportunities for Indigenous and Métis students, so this was her first time applying for the bursary.

She says receiving this financial assistance is important for her as an Indigenous student because it validates shared history.

“Cultural recognition, dialogue, and sharing knowledge are all extremely important, and this bursary encourages all of those aspects,” Miller said. “This bursary allows Métis students to excel in higher education and increase their skills to give back to the community. By providing funding, students are able to reach their goals and stay on track for graduation.”

It’s also enabled her to focus more on school and give her complete attention to her studies.

Over the past two years, Miller and her family have experienced increased stress regarding income. This bursary has been immensely helpful in removing those concerns.

“This bursary granted me the space to study without extreme financial stress regarding tuition, books, and living expenses,” she said. “I am also able to increase hours volunteering with student programs, tutor with the Aboriginal Student Centre, and participate fully with all that UWinnipeg has to offer.”

With just two years left in her undergraduate studies, Miller is planning on pursuing a master’s in international relations or attending law school.

She wants to take her passion for international diplomacy, particularly the intersection of law and human rights, and make that her career path.

“My dream is to work for an international institution, such as the United Nations, or the Canadian government promoting peaceful relations between nations.”

Nathalie Turenne – Master of Science in Environmental and Social Change

Nathalie Turenne wants to use her education to make a positive change in the world.

Now in her seventh year of studies at UWinnipeg, she is part of the first cohort of students in the Master of Science in Environmental and Social Change program.

Nathalie Turenne

This was the first time she’s applied for the Louis Riel Bursary and was over-the-moon excited when chosen as a recipient.

With so many uncertainties over the past two years due to the pandemic, Turenne says this bursary will help many Métis students as they pursue their academic dreams.

“Having the support of the Métis community in the form of the Louis Riel Bursary is a great way to inspire other Métis people,” said Turenne. “Being a Métis student in science and being recognized and supported provides much more then just financial support. It provides a sense of community and pride.”

The financial assistance that comes with the bursary has allowed Turenne to not only focus more on her studies, but also continue her work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

As part of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover mission, Turenne is the Science Payload Uplink Lead, where she chooses rock targets and works with engineers that day to uplink the activities, and Campaign Implementation Lead, where she plans the rover’s activities in advance.

“The Louis Riel Bursary will allow for more time to be put into my studies and thesis with less time worried about financial burdens,” she said. “A substantial portion of my time as a student is dedicated to finding and applying for awards, bursaries, and scholarships, and with this bursary that amount of time will decrease.” 

While Turenne isn’t sure what career path she wants to pursue, she does know she loves working with the environment and believes there are many issues she can help fix. She also says it’s hard not to see a future in space.

“A side of me wants to continue with the Mars research, go on to do a PhD, and pursue a career in planetary science, because it’s just so cool. You can’t explain the feeling of working on Mars and seeing those images.”

Aaron Sobkowich – Biology

Aaron Sobkowich is passionate about climate change thanks to Dr. Danny Blair of the Department of Geography.

The fourth-year Bachelor of Science student is majoring in biology and minoring in geography.

Aaron Sobkowich

“There is a serious need for biologists to understand the effects of climate change on prairie insects and prairie parasites, and the damages and diseases they may impose,” he said. “Especially as temperatures are warming and we have higher extreme weather events like flooding and droughts, which benefit their geographical distribution and life cycles.”

After finding out he was a recipient of the Louis Riel Bursary, Sobkowich was overwhelmed with joy and appreciation for the Manitoba Métis Federation and Louis Riel Institute.

The funds will go a long way towards not only helping him graduate without debt, but also ensuring his GPA remains high.

“I was on the brink of requiring a student loan to finish off my Winter Term or having to work more hours. That could have jeopardized my GPA,” he said. “I take great pride in my GPA and have the goal of graduating with over a 4.0 GPA. Without this bursary, I would not have been able to achieve this.”

Sobkowich says UWinnipeg is leading by example by ensuring any student, regardless of their background, can achieve their goals and graduate with honours as long as they put in the time, effort, and motivation.

After he completes his undergraduate studies, his goal is to attain a master’s degree by working with either Dr. Robert Anderson or Dr. Richard Westwood in order to become a well-educated entomologist/invertebrate specialist with a specialization in invasive, pest, and conservation requiring insects in Manitoba.

“With this degree, I hope to attain a job with the City of Winnipeg within the Insect Control Branch or Forestry Branch and help eradicate invasive and/or prevent pest insect population levels from surpassing the Economic Injury Level for the city.”

Sobkowich’s dream, however, it to one day work at Assiniboine Park Zoo on one of the many conservation projects in order to save endangered species threatened by pest insects.

Mackenzie Stewart – Anthropology and History

For Mackenzie Stewart, the Louis Riel Bursary is far more than just financial assistance to support her studies.

It’s an example of how post-secondary institutions should be supporting Indigenous students, she says, and encouraging them to learn more about their heritage.

Mackenzie Stewart

“Having a source of support for Indigenous students is vital in the continuation of Indigenous academics,” she said. “This support will allow for a connection with the past and a way to better our futures so that we can continue to teach about our heritage.”

A fourth-year UWinnipeg student majoring in both anthropology and history, Stewart is already very connected to her Métis heritage.

She’s currently employed as the Métis historical interpreter at St. Andrews Heritage Centre.

“My main job is to educate visitors on the Red River settlement and the Métis people who lived there,” Stewart explained. “The ability to explain the history and importance of Indigenous and Métis people means that I get to not only be an outlet for the voices of the past, but I also get to be a voice for my ancestors and the adversity they faced.”

This was Stewart’s first time receiving the bursary after her boyfriend and mom urged her apply.

With a heavy workload, she says she was in a tight financial situation as student loans could only cover so much money.

“The Louis Riel Bursary has supported me and will continue to support my education at The University of Winnipeg by reminding me that there are scholarships and bursaries that I can apply for that pertain to my heritage,” she said. “And because my heritage is important to me, I think that that’s the biggest gift I’ve gotten from the Louis Riel Bursary.”

After graduating, Stewart is planning on one day relocating to Iceland to pursue a master’s degree in Viking-age Archaeology and Medieval Norse studies, followed by a PhD on route to becoming a professor or working in a museum.

Megan Lindell – Indigenous Studies and Business

Megan Lindell wants to break down barriers for Indigenous people. 

Megan Lindell

Now in her sixth year of studies at UWinnipeg, she has already graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies, with a gold medal for highest mark in a major, and is currently working on completing a business degree. 

As she reflects on her years at UWinnipeg, Lindell says the Louis Riel Bursary, which she’s been awarded multiple times, really remoed the stresses of paying tuition and gave her the opportunity to focus on her studies. 

“It is really nice to have support,” she said. “It tells me they believe in me and want me to succeed, and that I belong here, too. I really appreciate it.” 

Besides being able to dedicate more time to her studies, the financial assistance that comes with this bursary also allowed her to focus on volunteer opportunities. 

Lindell currently on the Student Indigenous Advisory Circle through the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, where she gets to help university student groups respect Indigenous ways.  

“I walk with an Anishinaabe worldview. This is where I practice ceremony and learn more about myself,” she said. “They are beautiful ways that I was once terrified of. I thought as a Métis person that I wasn’t Indigenous enough to take part, and some people would even say so. Thankfully, I didn’t listen for long. My life changed because of it.” 

Lindell has also participated in the Indigenous Summer Scholars Program during her time at UWinnipeg, and says she can’t recommend it enough to Indigenous students. 

As she looks ahead to life after university, Lindell is starting a business where she can help change systemic barriers that Indigenous people face every day. 

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