In partnership with the Blackfoot Confederacy and the University of Lethbridge, the Mastercard Foundation has announced an investment of $15 million over the next five years, aimed at supporting and enabling Indigenous youth.
The eleV program will begin in fall 2020. The initiative will create new opportunities for young Indigenous people to access education, as well as the needed supports to be successful.
The hope is that the investment will result in employment, economic inclusion and the chance for economic development within their communities.
“Our work together will support new pathways for Indigenous youth, through education and onto employment,” said Jennifer Brennan of the Mastercard Foundation, “strengthening their communities and generating lasting change.”
“The partnership underscores our commitment to support Indigenous youth and communities leading innovation reflective of their values and aspirations.”
University officials said the initiative will also support the U of L in deepening its commitment to reconciliation, while providing an inclusive campus environment.
“Indigenous students face significant barriers in accessing post-secondary education, including transportation, housing and childcare, among others,” said Dr. Leroy Little Bear, an advisor to university President Mike Mahon.
“This partnership will empower Indigenous youth by removing these kinds of barriers.”
For recent graduate Sarah Russell, the initiative is important because it will expose more Indigenous youth to the opportunities that post-secondary education can provide.
“The person that walked into the university and the person that is standing here is a totally different person,” said Russell, who said education is something she believes in.
Russell worked hard to get to this point, after dropping out of school in Grade 6 and later returning for better opportunities.
In the announcement, the U of L and Blackfoot Nations said they will work together to ensure the program is structured to meet the needs of Blackfoot youth and communities.
“We look to our Blackfoot youth to be our future leaders and this program will be instrumental for their journey,” said Stanley Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation.
The university said funding will also be used to enhance Indigenous student services, with the hiring of a program director and a number of support roles within both education and economic development.