Unique assignment inspires Indspire to act

Chantelle Richmond was looking to give her students a fun assignment to wrap up her second-year Indigenous Environment class. Little did she know it would take on a life of its own.

“A lot of the stuff in this class is really hard to learn because it is about the hardships of indigenous people,” she said. “So, I wanted to create an assignment that would allow our students to see that, in spite of the fact so many people have gone through so many hardships, that Native people can be important champions not just within their own communities, but for Canadians in general.”

To that end, she turned to the Indspire Institute – and its Indspire Awards nomination process – for inspiration.

Outside the federal government, Indspire is the largest supporter of Indigenous education with more than $50 million in scholarships and bursaries presented to more than 14,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis recipients nationwide. Each year, the Indspire Awards recognize Indigenous professionals and youth who demonstrate outstanding career achievement.

Richmond, therefore, asked her students to nominate similar individuals for mock awards.

So, as her students began searching for their nominees, one student attempted to contact a nominee, Detroit Red Wings player Jordan Tootoo, through Twitter to let him know what they were doing. It was through social media that Indspire learned of Richmond’s assignment. The organization was so enthused about the project that liaison officer Bryanne Drysdale made a special trip from her Toronto office to Western in order to listen to the student’s presentations.

In the midst of the actual nomination process, Drysdale saw the visit as great opportunity to learn what Indigenous people the younger generation are buzzing about.

“I was excited to come and learn and see what was interesting to the students, what drove them to think about a specific person,” she said. “That’s what I want to know for our organization, what is out there that people are wanting to learn about? What is drawing people to learn about a specific person or group of people?”

Artists Bill Reed and Norval Morrisseau, athletes Tootoo and Ted Nolan, poet Shayne Koyczan and social activist Robert Lovelace were just some of the names bantered about by the students.

“I thought it was neat to see the variation of years. Be it someone who has passed on or someone who is new, a person who has had an impact for such a long time or someone who has just come up and is very timely. There is such a broad range of individuals,” Drysdale said. “It’s really about what they had to overcome. They were not privileged or on a path to succeed and I feel that’s really inspirational and gives people the feeling that ‘Hey, perhaps I can do this, too.’”

For Richmond, she was elated to see the success of the assignment.

“Honestly, I had no idea what was going to happen,” she said. “I said, ‘Listen, this is my vision, you can have five minutes to convince us,’ and I think the extra edge was that Bryanne was here. It just shows you how broad the impact of Aboriginal Canadians is on our national fabric and the things we value and deem important.

“I think it was just a neat opportunity for the students to do something applied and see the other side of the story.”