The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and its provincial union in Nova Scotia are taking heat after the recipient of its Indigenous scholarship posted photos on social media calling herself “the whitest person ever.”
The comments went viral in a social media post on Friday calling the decision a “blatant theft from Indigenous people.” The post included screenshots that the Twitter user said were from a Facebook post.
The student’s mother says her daughter apologized to the union on Thursday, saying her comments were “taken out of context.”
In the post, the student, who Global News has decided not to identify, said in a photo caption that she had received the scholarship by writing “some random essay on treatment of Indigenous kids in school.”
“Good thing they don’t have to look at me (and) notice I’m the whitest person ever,” the post from the student reads.
In a second photo, the student states she won the scholarship over “tens of thousands of people over Canada,” and is only the third in 30 years from Nova Scotia to win the award.
She can also be seen posing with a bottle of tan bronzer because she has to be part of a photo op where she says she’ll need a “fake tan.”
A third photo shows the student receiving the award alongside Nova Scotia General Employees Union president Jason MacLean in a photo dated Nov. 1.
The tweet garnered over 26,000 retweets and 59,000 likes within 24 hours.
Student writes apology to NUPGE
According to the student’s mother, the student issued an apology to the union on Thursday.
In it, the student says the photos were posted on a private, second account meant only for friends, then screenshotted and “taken out of context.”
“I would like to sincerely apologize that these pictures and their captions were so grossly misinterpreted,” the apology reads, “and I assure you that I meant no disrespect towards the union nor Indigenous people.”
The student’s apology goes on to say she has been made fun of and called names for being Indigenous because of her skin colour.
“The colour of my skin does not erase my heritage, or my anger towards their treatment that I wrote very passionately about in the essay that won me this scholarship,” the apology continues. “Even the suggestion that I would fake my ethnic background is truly insulting for me and is just another example of people not taking my ancestry seriously just because I do not exactly ‘look the role’, as I have been told.”
The student says that is why she posted about being compelled to fake tan, as she was “worried the union would see me in the same light.”
“I was very honoured to receive this scholarship and am heartbroken that anybody would think I did not take it seriously, or that I was pretending to be something I am not,” the apology concludes.
“I hope you accept this truly sincere apologies, and I would like to thank the union again for choosing me to receive this prestigious scholarship.”
The student’s apology was sent to the NUPGE a day before the photos went viral.
NUPGE investigation underway
In a Facebook post Friday, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) confirmed it has been made aware of the issue and that an investigation is underway.
“The recipient this year has self-identified as an Indigenous person,” the post reads. “We have become aware that there have been some recent social media related to this and it is unfortunate that sometimes people post things on social media that they come to regret.”
According to the NUPGE, the Scholarship for Indigenous Students is offered every year to children or grandchildren, or the foster children or the foster grandchildren, of members or retirees of the national union’s component unions or its affiliates.
The $1,500 scholarship, according to the NUPGE, goes to students entering the first year of a Canadian public, post-secondary educational institution on a full-time basis.
“The scholarships are awarded based on the best 750- to 1,000-word essay on one of the selected topics,” the NUPGE states. “Some scholarships may have additional requirements such as asking the applicant to self-identify as Indigenous, a Student of Colour, Person with a Disability, or LGBTQ2SI.
“We trust these statements. We have never had to investigate the veracity of the self-identification.”
The NUPGE did not confirm whether the student’s scholarship will be revoked.
The NSGEU also confirmed in a Facebook post on Friday that it is aware of the controversy and that the information has been passed on to the NUPGE.
The NSGEU, too, stated that “it’s unfortunate that people say offensive things on social media that they end up regretting.”
The photo of the student accepting the award alongside Jason MacLean has since been deleted.
The NSGEU told Global News it would not be commenting past the Facebook post, as the award is given through NUPGE. NUPGE has not responded to requests for comment.