When Egian Metallic stumbled upon a YouTube video on car detailing when he was 17, he couldn’t have known it would change his life. 

The video inspired the member of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Quebec to start his own auto detailing business. Once he had saved $2,000 to buy all the supplies he needed, he launched it from his grandmother’s driveway. But he also needed business knowledge to take it to the next level, and he couldn’t afford it. 

So, he applied for educational bursaries from Indspire — Canada’s largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-focused charity that supports First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students with their education — and enrolled in St. Francis Xavier’s commerce program to study marketing.

“Receiving support from Indspire completely changed my mental outlook on school and gave me a chance to take my business experience beyond the reserve,” he wrote in a testimonial posted on Indspire’s website

Three people sat at table

Photo: Indspire supports Indigenous youth across Canada in rural and urban area, and has provided more than $217 million to First Nations students since 1996.
Credit: Indspire

“Donor funds from Indspire meant that I could buy more groceries and have a little more for my living expenses while I studied. For the first time, I really felt that there might be hope for my future. To know that there were good people in the world who were looking out for people like me — well, that changed everything.”

Indspire supports Indigenous youth across Canada, in both rural areas and urban centres, to help them graduate and go on to post-secondary education with bursaries, scholarships, youth conferences and mentoring programs. Its Building Brighter Futures program — which is supported through ScotiaRISE — provides bursaries and scholarships that are matched by the Government of Canada for post-secondary institutions as well as skilled trades.  

Scotiabank, which has partnered with Indspire since 1996, has renewed its partnership with the organization. Through ScotiaRISE, the Bank’s 10-year, $500-million initiative aimed at promoting economic resilience among disadvantaged groups, it will invest $600,000 over three years in support of three programs: the Building Brighter Futures scholarship program for postsecondary schools; the Soaring Indigenous Youth Empowering Gatheringand the National Gathering for Indigenous Education.

Statistic graphic indicating Indspire disbursed $27.5 million  in scholarships and bursaries to over  7,500 Indigenous students for 2022-23. This year also saw a record-breaking number of applications

Source: Indspire

“Supporting Indigenous youth by removing barriers to educational attainment is paramount for developing the skills they will need for their chosen careers and achieving their full potential,” says Maria Saros, Scotiabank’s Vice President & Global Head, Social Impact. “We are proud to support Indspire and the meaningful impact it makes on the lives of these students and their communities.” 

In 2022-23 the Building Brighter Futures program disbursed $27.5 million through bursaries and scholarships to over 7,500 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students, a significant jump from 2019, when it awarded $17.8 million through 5,553 bursaries and scholarships. 

“Of all the Indigenous people who are in post-secondary right now, we gave one-quarter of them some form of support,” said Indspire President & CEO Mike DeGagné. “That gives you a sense of the importance of the resources that we have for individual students.”

Indspire participants have a higher post-secondary graduation rate than other Indigenous students, according to the Canadian government. About 75% of Indspire scholarship and bursary recipients completed post-secondary education on time and 88.4% had graduated within four years of their expected graduation.

Group on stage posing for group photo

Photo: Indspire organizes an event called Soaring: Indigenous Youth Empowerment Gathering, which brings together First Nations, Inuit, and Métis high school students from across the country. During this gathering, they can explore various career and post-secondary education options.
Credit: Indspire

Educational attainment for Indigenous youth in Canada has come a long way, but a gap still remains, stemming from a multitude of factors including generational trauma and the impact of residential schools. Indigenous students also often have less access to resources, funding and scholarships than their non-Indigenous peers. 

In the early 1970s, there were very few Indigenous people in post-secondary education, said DeGagné, who is also a professor of sociology and special advisor on Indigenous initiatives at the University of Toronto

“In many provinces, in order to enroll at university, Indigenous people had to enfranchise, which meant they had to give up their rights as Indigenous people,” said DeGagné, who is a member of the Ojibwe community of Animakee Wa Zhing 37 First Nation (English name Northwest Angle). Enfranchisement was part of the Indian Act.

“That held Indigenous people back from fully participating in the ways they would have liked, including in post-secondary education.”

Indspire was formed in 1985, the year enfranchisement was removed from the Indian Act. 

While many strides have been made over the years, a divide remains.

Statistics Canada data from 2016 shows 72% of non-Indigenous youth were likely to have attended or completed a post-secondary program, more than twice the rate of Indigenous youth at 37%. 

Location and access are key factors. Statistics Canada found that 83% of Indigenous youth on reserve lived in rural areas, and 70% of reserves have fewer than 500 inhabitants. 

“Due to their relatively low population density, smaller communities may have to rely on larger urban centres to access education. This commute can be distant and costly, impacting participation in education,” Statistics Canada wrote.

In addition to scholarships, Indspire also helps Indigenous youth at key stages of their educational journey prior to post-secondary, including mentorship programs. 

Man at podium

Photo: Indspire President & CEO Mike DeGagné, who is also a professor of sociology and special advisor on Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Toronto, gives a speech.
Credit: Indspire

The charity also hosts annual events such as the National Gathering for Indigenous Education, where educators and partners work together to improve the educational outcomes of K-12 Indigenous students. Some 1,200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers across Canada take part in the event, which features workshops from education experts, sharing best practices and research, DeGagné said.

“Many teachers of Indigenous students — particularly those in rural and remote locations — are under-resourced and have limited access to vital professional development,” said DeGagné.

“Our program aims to encourage kids to stay in school by giving their teachers the ability to enable their success, giving a whole generation of Indigenous youth the confidence, support and tools they need to finish high school and go on to post-secondary education.”

Indspire also holds the Soaring Indigenous Youth Empowering Gathering, which will be held in Ottawa in April of this year, to allow students learn about career and post-secondary education options by participating in career workshops in person or virtually.

DeGagné said he is impressed with how much progress has been made in the last two decades to help get Indigenous people into higher education and into the workforce with meaningful careers. 

“Universities and colleges have responded extremely well to the Indigenous realities and reconciliation in Canada,” he said. 

The growing support of Canadian corporations is also helping raise awareness, he added.

“A lot of organizations have Indigenous action plans and very detailed ways in which they support the Indigenous community,” DeGagné said. 

“Reconciliation isn't finished, but I think people involved in making change deserve credit for having accomplished what they've accomplished.” 

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