Canada needs to increase its numbers. That’s the message from national charity Indspire, which has a vision that within one generation, every Indigenous student will graduate from high school. Suncor and the Suncor Energy Foundation have been partnering with Indspire for over 20 years to help them get there.
The number of First Nation, Inuit and Métis people in their early 20s that hold a high school diploma is low, especially for those who live on reserve. Only 48 per cent of people in their 20s living on a reserve in Canada have graduated from high school. Compare that to the 90 per cent of non-Indigenous 20-somethings that hold a high school diploma.
This year, Indspire held its National Gathering for Indigenous Education virtually from November 26 to 27. Over 900 Indigenous and non-indigenous educators from across the country attended, as well as Suncor employees Angela Morales Hernandez and Jeffrey Thompson who won passes to the event through an employee contest.
Angela, an aviation specialist with Suncor grew up south of Edmonton, Alta., in the town of Devon. Her father is Scottish and her mother Métis, but Angela and her siblings were sheltered from their Métis roots. What she knew of her Métis family was told to her in secret by her mother.
“When I was 12, Mom took me to a Sun Dance. It was the first time I had seen anything like that,” explains Angela. “It was kind of a secret thing because we didn’t want to upset Dad.”
Angela has been learning more about her Métis heritage so she can share it with the rest of her family, including her two young sons.
“I tell my oldest, ‘you are Indigenous and that comes from your grandma’,’’ says Angela. “I’m getting my boys their Métis cards now so they’ll have them for life.”
Jeffrey’s story is a little different. Now a Suncor health and safety advisor, Jeffrey grew up in Vernon, B.C., the son of a school teacher and uncle to 11 nieces and nephews; two of whom are Indigenous. However, his introduction to Indigenous history and culture is recent—having met an Indigenous man who introduced him to traditional ceremonies and teachings.
“I had some struggles at the beginning of the year,” explains Jeffrey. “During that time, I met an Indigenous man who opened my eyes to a lot of [traditional] things. I feel very connected to the culture now.”
While their stories and backgrounds are different, they share a desire to learn more about Indigenous education, either for themselves or the next generation, which is what led them to the Indspire conference.
My nieces are Indigenous, and we really don’t talk about that very much,” says Jeffrey.” “The National Gathering really opened my eyes about what they might go through. I want to reach out and get more information now.
The event included a virtual tradeshow, which Suncor participated in, keynotes, workshops, panel discussions, and stories from Indigenous educators and students from across the country. It also featured remarks from Suncor’s Chief Sustainability Officer Martha Hall Findlay and Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Arlene Strom.
Thanks to the support of its partners and donors, Indspire continues to work towards its vision by providing financial supports and scholarships to Canadian Indigenous students. Indspire was named a top-rated charity for Canadians to support by Maclean’s magazine in 2019.