Legacy gift funds scholarship awards for Indigenous language learners

February 01, 2023
Indigenous Languages Program graduate award namesake Ruby Peter at SFU's 2019 convocation ceremony during which she received an honourary degree. Credit: Greg Ehlers

Thanks to a generous legacy gift from the Lobstick Foundation, endowments have been created to permanently fund two scholarship awards benefitting Indigenous students, guaranteeing its financial support for Indigenous language learners for many years to come. 

Supporting students enrolled in the Indigenous Languages Program (INLP), the Dr. Aimee August Award in Indigenous Language Proficiency and the Dr. Ruby Peter Graduate Award in Indigenous Language Proficiency were established in honour of their namesakes, who had made great strides in Indigenous language revitalization, instruction, and documentation.  

The creation of the Lobstick Foundation was also inspired by two great women, Dr. Margaret Nix and Dr. Marygold Nash. "They were extraordinary women who wanted to leave a legacy that would provide an opportunity for disadvantaged women to succeed," says the foundation's chairman Wayne Braid. "Their wish was honoured following their deaths and the Lobstick Foundation was established."  

The name 'lobstick' refers to a tall, conspicuous pine tree that has been limbed in such a way that the top branches provide directions to the nearest safe haven. In rural Manitoba, where Nix taught in a remote village as a young woman, the lobstick was used as a landmark and gave direction to the Indigenous peoples on foot in the deep snows of winter. It is this vision that guides the foundation's mandate in providing financial assistance to Canadian women as they pursue their educational and career goals.  

Despite their different backgrounds and upbringing, one can see parallels between August, Peter, and the founders of the Lobstick Foundation. All four women persevered in the face of adversity and dedicated their lives to helping their communities. As Braid succinctly describes it, "Ultimately, this is the story of four women who shared a common goal—to support and uplift others."


Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 1920s, Margaret Nix dealt with both the harsh cold and gender discrimination. Described as a pioneer in a male-dominated culture, she was resilient and determined. During her career, she was the first woman to become Chair of the Department of Management at the Lubin School, and the first female professor in New York's Pace University graduate program, where she spent more than 15 years as a faculty member and administrator.

"Nix championed Indigenous rights in the medical field to make certain that funding to establish hospitals and expand healthcare services were extended to Indigenous communities as well," says Braid. "She went to 42 different communities and established 40 hospitals." 

He goes on to say, "As for Marygold Nash, she was quieter but a formidable force of nature." A gifted soprano and pianist, Nash starred in many musical productions while she completed her undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia in 1942. She obtained her master’s of social work from McGill University and later her PhD from Columbia University. She was the director of the New York Service for the Orthopedically Handicapped, and received the Ethel H. Wise Special Merit Award for her significant professional contributions to the field of social work. Considered a renowned Canadian scholar, she started teaching at Pace College where she was the Chair of the School of Social Work. 

Nix and Nash met in the 60s in New York City and quickly became friends. When they both retired, they decided to pool their assets together to help others, especially young Indigenous women. Braid explains, "It was really important to them that they support young women to get an education so they can return to their communities and help their people." 

Aimee August and Ruby Peter

Up until her passing in 1993, Aimee August worked tirelessly to help revive and preserve the language, culture, and traditions of the Secwépemc whose traditional lands occupy a vast territory of the BC interior. A well-respected Elder in her community, August worked for decades with linguists, anthropologists, ethnomusicologists and ethnobotanists to record and document Secwépemc language and culture. 

In 1992, Simon Fraser University (SFU) together with the Secwépemc Education Institute awarded August an honourary doctorate at a special convocation ceremony in Kamloops, where the university's Indigenous languages program was first formed. 

Ruby Peter (Sti’tum’atul’wut) was a respected knowledge holder from the Quamichan Band, Cowichan Tribes, and an honourary doctorate recipient from both SFU and the University of Victoria. An accomplished linguistic researcher, Peter demonstrated an unfaltering lifetime commitment towards Hul'q'umi'num' language revitalization, instruction, analysis, and documentation.

As the lead Elder in the teaching team for SFU community-based language programs in Duncan, BC, Peter was instrumental in the development of INLP's Diploma in Indigenous Language Proficiency. For over six decades she trained new speakers of the language and currently there are over 200 fluent second language speakers and many thousands who have a basic knowledge of the language, largely thanks to Peter and the language teachers she trained.


Financial support in the form of scholarships and awards can have a powerful positive impact on Indigenous language learners. Jasḵwaan Bedard received the Dr. Ruby Peter Graduate Award while pursuing her doctoral degree at SFU, and it allowed her to dedicate herself to her studies and her goal of strengthening her X̱aad Kíl mother tongue, the Old Massett dialect of the Haida language.  

“The award really allowed me to take a step back and take an educational leave from my job," says Bedard. "As a mother of three and working full-time, I was spread so thin that my physical and mental health suffered immensely. I was so grateful to be able to really concentrate on my studies and strategies for creating a larger community of X̲aad Kíl speakers.”

Roxanne Etienne, a recipient of the Dr. Aimee August award and recent graduate of the Indigenous languages certificate program, echoes this sentiment. "When I got accepted to SFU, I was eager to learn. Receiving the award was helpful in supporting my education and in the long term, my goal is to pursue further learning in Indigenous languages." 

As young Indigenous language learners continue to be supported through these endowed awards, they carry on the language preservation work and community-building set forth by August, Peter, Nix, and Nash. The legacy of these four women lives on through the students that they help. SFU's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is grateful for all they have done for their communities, and for the generosity of our donors in providing financial support to our students. 

Jasḵwaan with her mentor, the late Primrose Adams at First People Cultural Council Mentor Apprentice Training (Aliana Parker, 2015) |

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