Meet Ina Fairbanks (Old Shoes), a 24-year-old member of the Blackfoot from Blood Tribe (Kainai) and a proud recipient of the 2022 Alberta Blue Cross® Indigenous scholarship. After graduating high school, Ina worked as a volunteer firefighter and became a full-time firefighter at 20 years old—all while also working part time in many different areas on her reservation.

“I wanted to change something in my life,” Ina said. “I wanted to enjoy my life and not just spend it working to survive.” She recognized the value in furthering her education to do this and, inspired by the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff she worked alongside as a firefighter, decided to take action to become a paramedic and help her people in a different way. She is currently completing the paramedic program with an applied bachelor’s degree in health and science at Medicine Hat College.

Ina came across our Indigenous scholarship program while searching online for scholarships in Alberta. Receiving this scholarship has helped her immensely in pursuit of her education and career as a paramedic. “My husband is putting a lot of trust in me to be successful by going back to school,” she explained. “This award has allowed me to succeed without struggling to do so.” No longer living off dual income, these funds help Ina and her husband during the school year. For Ina’s paramedic uniform alone costs $800.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Ina’s ability to focus on her studies. “I think a lot of Indigenous people can agree we’re hands-on learners,” said Ina. “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn independently; it’s just harder to learn virtually.”

Coming from the reservation, Ina has found it difficult to manage her course load. She admits to struggling to find motivation to do the things she wants to outside of school—something many of us can relate to whether we’re in school or working. We applaud Ina’s efforts to support her mental health by seeking out help through counselling. “It’s taught me how to battle thoughts that tell me I won’t succeed,” explained Ina. “My ability to actively pursue my goal comes from the love and trust of those who believe in me. Alberta Blue Cross listened to a small portion of my story and gave me an opportunity show my worth and ensure my work reflects my appreciation.”

Photo caption: This past summer, Ina was selected by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and Parks Canada as one of three Indigenous artists to create a temporary eight-by-eight-foot mural painting at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Awarded the position of a mentee artist to learn large-scale art creation, she created this piece together with a prominent Indigenous artist. She hopes to one day create large-scale art that tells stories of Indigenous culture.

To balance school and life, Ina occasionally treats herself to a night with friends but devotes the rest of her weekend to catching up on readings and assignments. With her family living two hours away, she’s unable to see them as much as she’d like, but they understand the sacrifices she must make right now to prioritize her education.

Ina helps her community by running a small business where she sells hand-drawn apparel for Indigenous movements that need recognition. “When the old residential school graves were being dug up, I heard a lot of my people frustrated with large companies profiting off our people”, said Ina. “I figured I could use my drawing skills to create something made by an Indigenous person and support a good cause.”

Photo caption: Some of Ina’s personal artwork.

To someone considering post-secondary education, Ina highly recommends taking elective courses first to make the coursework lighter. “Work smarter, not harder,” she explained. “You’ll do yourself a favour mentally, physically and emotionally by not overwhelming yourself with more than necessary. Every class matters so do what you can to succeed, even if it takes longer—you won’t regret it.”

Ina often reflects on her past and where she is today. “My mother did the best she could as a single parent raising two children,” she said. “I’ll never forget how hard she tried.” She recalled blowing out candles on her 10th birthday at a women’s shelter and wishes she could tell her younger self that “things are going to happen to you and not all of them are going to be great, but you’re going to make a difference—you just have to believe it will be better.”

Ina went on to explain that she wouldn’t be the person she is today without those hardships, experiences and memories—good and bad. “I can’t wait to see what else I am going to do in this life,” she said.

Upon graduating as a paramedic, Ina hopes she can encourage and motivate others to pursue their passions. “Our people have a lot of untapped potential that needs to be awakened,” she said. “I grew up not having the resources to sustain my dreams but once I made the decision to go for it, it turned out that me alone believing in myself was all I needed.”

Our scholarships for Indigenous students work to address the education inequity faced by Indigenous peoples in Alberta by making post-secondary studies more financially accessible. The awards are based on scholastic achievement, financial need and community involvement, and recipients are selected by an external committee with expertise in academia and Indigenous education. Learn more about our Indigenous scholarship program and hear other inspiring stories like Ina’s on our website.

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