By Christopher Thrall –
Anastasia Evarts has a friendly, open smile: it is easy to believe that, since the second-year psychology student graduated from Hilltop High School in Whitecourt two years ago, the outgoing young woman with her mind set on the U of A’s speech pathology program has inspired a number of organizations to contribute several thousands of dollars to her education.
For both her first and second years, Evarts won Aboriginal Health Careers bursaries as well as both a National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation award and a Belcourt Brosseau Métis Award. Last year, she also received an award from the U of A’s Aboriginal Students Services Centre award and was honoured with a Métis sash at the Belcourt Brosseau award ceremony.
“I was lucky to go to two awards nights,” says Evarts, “last year and this year. My dad – he’s the Métis one in our family – really wanted me to go. He is really proud of me.” At the September 25 Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards ceremony, Anastasia proudly wore her sash all night. The important symbol bears colours representing the mixing of two nations, sky and bountiful water, fertility, growth and the sun.
“The founders of the award were there and we got to meet them,” says Evarts. “We ate bannock in the beginning and heard prayers from Elders in Cree. We heard Métis fiddlers and dancing and the Métis national anthem. It makes you feel really special.” Belcourt Brosseau takes seriously the goal of self-sufficiency among Métis.
“We try to wrap the award around what their need is,” Georges Brosseau says about the award itself, adding that students in any field can apply for the award. “We see that they get an education, be gainfully employed, and uplift themselves from the situation they’re in.”
In order to win the awards, Anastasia had to send out application after application. She relied heavily on the support of her family – and especially her mother – to send them all. “My mom helps me with lots of my scholarships,” Evarts explains, “filling them out and getting reference letters.” In her personal statements, Anastasia shared details about her schoolwork, activities and her family.
“My marks in high school were pretty good – 80s and 90s, I guess,” says Evarts. “I’ve volunteered to call bingo at a seniors’ centre in Whitecourt since I was in grade 10 and still do, when I go back home. I worked as a lifeguard and taught swim lessons, and in the past two summers, I was a lifeguard and leader at a foster children’s camp.” Most of her awards were specifically for Métis students and based on marks, volunteer experience and leadership.
Evarts is very grateful for the support she’s received from these various organizations and hopes her success motivates others to apply for these awards. “There aren’t as many people who apply for them, but I encourage people all the time.” As one of the Aboriginal Student Mentors, she tells students and prospective students about her successes.
While she believes her Augustana experience is similar to any other student’s, she acknowledges that the sense of community provided by the Aboriginal Students Office on the smaller campus is important. “I came to Augustana because it was smaller,” says Evarts. “I just liked the smallness and the friendliness. The (Edmonton Campus) kind of overwhelmed me.”
“Because Augustana is about face-to-face relationships, I try to work with students interested in award opportunities as much as possible,” says Petra Cegielny, Augustana’s Aboriginal Student Advisor. “The Aboriginal Students Office provides information to students regarding upcoming Aboriginal awards on a monthly basis and tries to assist in all facets of the awards process. These awards are very competitive and seeing Anastasia and others winning these awards gives us a great sense of happiness.”
As for the future, Anastasia intends to keep applying for awards and focus on her education. “My marks are pretty similar to my high school marks right now, but I have to improve them. I want to get into speech pathology and it’s very very difficult.”
If she sets her mind to it, there is no doubt that the determined young woman will succeed.
Other Augustana students who received a Belcourt Brosseau Métis Award for the 2010/2011 academic year include first year student Brandan Chretien from High Level, second year student Cassandra Reinhart from Athabasca and third year student Pamela Billey from Smoky Lake.
For more information on Aboriginal student awards, please contact Petra Cegielny in Augustana’s Aboriginal Students Office at 780-679-1562.