Four northeastern Ontario women have won 2020 Student Achievement Awards and $2,000 scholarships from the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC). These awards are given to Indigenous students who are pursuing a technical career.
Chantel Desrochers, Megan Laroche, Aaryn Zoccole and Bohdana Innes live or were educated in the northeast.
Innes, who grew up in Wawa and Moose Factory, is studying for her master’s in architecture at Laurentian University.
“Studying at the McEwen School of Architecture has been enjoyable, and I have learned so much about Indigenous architecture. This is a true passion of mine and I love what I do,” she said.
“I am excited to start my master’s this fall and will be taught by Douglas Cardinal. He will be teaching the Indigenous design studio group. He is the first Indigenous architect in Canada, and as a young Indigenous architect, I really admire his achievements.”
Innes, who will be one of only 20 Indigenous architects in Canada when she graduates in 2022, said, “No matter where I end up, I want to continue acknowledging the Indigenous culture and designing with our traditions/values. I think it’s extremely important for Indigenous communities to be able to experience their culture within the buildings they use every day.
“I wasn’t expecting to receive the Jay Benedict Memorial award, so I feel very honoured to receive it. Being an Indigenous woman in the architectural field is rare. Being able to share what I do and to work with First Nation communities is a huge honour itself.”
Zoccole, the Robert Olivier Memorial Award winner, has lived in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island since she was a teenager. This fall, she is entering her first year of the mechanical engineering program at the University of Toronto.
Earlier this year, she was a member of her high school’s robotics team that competed against 60 other student teams at a global competition in Detroit, Mich. Her team finished in the top three.
“I feel pretty good about receiving this award,” said Zoccole. In the future, “I plan to either be building aircraft, flying aircraft or becoming a medical doctor. There's one thing for sure. I hope to be a role model and inspire other First Nations youth so they know that they could do it too. They can do great things even if they come from small communities.”
Student Achievement Award winner Chantel Desrochers is a registered member of Beausoleil First Nation and is a graduate of Laurentian University’s School of Environment. Her goal is to work in her home community’s lands and resources department.
Megan Laroche, another Student Achievement Award winner, is a member of Moose Cree First Nation. When she graduates from the environmental program at Cambrian College in June 2021, she said she plans to work with her First Nation in the environment department.
“These awards are an integral part of the work we do at OFNTSC,” said Melanie Debassige, OFNTSC executive director, in a news release. “They serve as a mechanism to support Indigenous youth who are currently enrolled in fields that will help our people achieve technologically self-sufficient, self-reliant communities. We strongly feel that we are supporting future engineers, innovators, leaders, and stars in these fields.”
The OFNTSC, based in Brantford was created in 1995 to provide technical advisory services Including operations and maintenance, housing, water and wastewater treatment, infrastructure, emergency planning, environment, and fire and safety to Indigenous communities.
Vicki Gilhula is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com.