Jennifer Brant and Melanie Anderson are the recipients of this year’s Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
Brant, a Master of Education student, has received the graduate award. Anderson, a Business Administration student, has received the undergraduate award.
The Six Nations women were honoured at a recent luncheon at Pond Inlet by the Student Development Centre and Aboriginal Student Services. During their speeches, they shared their stories.
Brant hopes her research will help future Aboriginal women attend university.
She aims to identify barriers preventing Aboriginal women from post-secondary education. Eventually, she wants to design a program that addresses those barriers.
Brant started at Brock in 2002 as an undergraduate Sociology student. She was the first in her family to attend university, and she felt alienated both as an Aboriginal woman and a single mother.
“Despite these challenges, I was determined to succeed not only for myself and my son, but also for the betterment of our communities,” she said.
She found a community at Brock through Aboriginal Student Services, she said. The friends and connections she made prompted her to start dancing again. In 2006, she joined the woman’s hand drum group Maajji Maadzi, and with that group has performed at Brock events.
“I am often reminded by my Mohawk instructor Sakoieta Widrick that it wasn’t too long ago that it was illegal for us to sing and dance,” she said. “So to be able to have our song and dance embraced here at the University attests to the great achievements of our people who fought for us to do so.”
For her sons Jayden and Quinten, “the University is thought to be a friendly place where they come to drum, dance and listen to our traditional teachers.”
Brant uses Indigeneous research methods, providing participants with a welcoming and comfortable environment. She is committed to producing research that is beneficial to her community and engages women, she said.
She plans to pursue a PhD. One of her goals in research, she said, is “to challenge university institutions to create environments in which our presence and needs as Aboriginal women are recognized as opportunities rather than barriers.”
Anderson always planned to pursue an education, but for a while, she said, those plans were put on hold.
She became a mother of twins Daris and Marissa at 19, and later gave birth to Grayce, 5. “As a mother, I realized I needed to stay home and take care of my children,” she said.
As her children got older, she quit her job at RBC Royal Bank and enrolled as a Business Administration student at Brock. She had already watched her mother return to college at age 35 and graduate with a Native Community Care diploma from Mohawk College.
“I want to be an inspiration to my children, and all Aboriginal mothers who feel it is impossible to accomplish a dream,” she said.
Anderson puts a strong emphasis on the traditions of her people, and believes in passing on knowledge through generations. Her children are enrolled in full-time Cayuga language immersion at I. L. Thomas School on the reserve. She also pop-wow and Iroquois dances and represented Team Ontario in senior women’s volleyball in the North American Indigenous Games in Cowichan, B.C.
Anderson has a long daily commute during the school year, and also works part time. Balancing school, work and family is challenging, she said.
But “I want to be a role model for all Aboriginal people who think it’s too late to return to school,” she said. “I have returned to school after 10 years and three kids later.
“As a proud mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife and Native woman, I am going to walk away from Brock University with my Bachelor of Business Administration degree.”