The educational pursuits of 20 local youth are looking a little less daunting thanks to a recent infusion of corporate investment.
Cermaq dished out $20,000 worth of scholarship funding to Ahousaht students last month.
The international fish farming company operates 14 salmon farms within the First Nation’s territory.
“This local community is our partner and we take our partnerships very seriously. It’s important to give back to the communities where you operate and help them where they need help,” Cermaq spokesperson Laurie Jensen told the Westerly News.
“This is a part of a win-win situation. We have an opportunity to help them and it feels good doing it. It was the best part of my December, giving out those scholarships.”
Cermaq signed a protocol agreement with Ahousaht in 2010 that is renewed every five years. The $20,000 annual scholarship program was added during 2015’s renewal process, according to Jensen.
“We don’t have to have a protocol agreement with Ahousaht, but we recognize that we are operating in their territory and we think it’s important to be good neighbours,” she said.
“One of the ways to do that, in particular with First Nations, is to acknowledge their area, acknowledge their needs and help support them in moving forward sustainably.”
She said the funding is allocated based on how many students meet a set list of criteria each year and Cermaq works with the Ahousaht Education Authority to determine the recipients. Last year, the $20,000 was distributed to 15 students and Jensen was pleased to see that list grow to 20 students this time around.
“It shows the initiative of the Ahousaht people and, I think, that’s absolutely wonderful,” she said.
She said Cermaq is committed to assisting Ahousaht’s educational pursuits.
“People are poor if they don’t have education, and they don’t have jobs, and poverty is one of the single most debilitating factors in a lot of coastal communities,” she said.
“We want them to be able to contribute back to their society and them being educated is one of the key ways to do it. There’s that saying ‘ If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,’ and education is the key to feeding them for a lifetime.”
Ahousaht’s Keenan Andrew became a two-time recipient of the scholarship. Andrew recently graduated with a Community, Family and Child Studies diploma from Camosun College and is now pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria.
“I feel so blessed to receive another scholarship this year and it reaffirms that, with hard work and great dedication, I can achieve amazing things,” he said. “Upon completing my undergrad, my fiancee and I are going to start up our own group for aboriginal children that are at risk and in foster care.”