2015 Graduate Aboriginal Scholarship winners: Valerie Bob and Monique Auger

December 22, 2015

Each year, SFU selects two Aboriginal graduate students to receive Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarships. The master’s degree, worth up to $30,000 over two years, and the PhD, worth up to $54,000 over three years, are both sponsored by the Office of the Vice-President, Academic.

Candidates must have Aboriginal ancestry, a minimum grade point average of 3.5 (out of a possible 4.33), and have demonstrated outstanding achievement, with particular emphasis on intellectual ability, originality and ability in research.

The successful applicants for the 2015 scholarships were Valerie Bob and Monique Auger.

PhD student explores impact of music on language renewal

At 58, Valerie Bob has had a long career in social services and education after earning a BA in social work and an MA in First Peoples’ education.

Now, with the help of a Graduate Aboriginal Scholarship, she’s embarking on a PhD program that combines her interests in native language renewal and ceremonial music.

Bob’s Indigenous heritage is rooted in the Penelakut First Nation on Vancouver Island, and the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho.

Her Hul’q’umi’num’ dialect was spoken in the home but she was forced to lose much of her language during her school years in government church-run schools.

Today, she is one of just 100 speakers who are semi-fluent in the language, while a further 50 speakers, all elders, are fluent.

Bob has been struggling to relearn her language for the past six years but hasn’t found it easy, since there aren’t many formal teaching resources.

And because she was punished for speaking her language at school, she sometimes still experiences a negative emotional reaction when trying to speak it.

“I can practice, practice, practice and sometimes it won’t come out,” she says.

But as a teacher, Bob noticed that First Nations children always respond well to lessons that incorporate traditional music.

During a recent stint teaching Kindergarten to Grade 3, she experimented with her nation’s traditional songs, adapting them to teach basic Hul’q’umi’num’ sentence structure. She found it worked quite well.

That’s when she approached SFU education professor Donna Gertz about pursuing a PhD that explores ways to teach Hul’q’umi’num’ that incorporate traditional ceremonial music.

“I’ll be applying Indigenous research methods to my studies,” says Bob, which means she’ll be considering language learning from a traditional, First Nations holistic perspective.

She’ll take into consideration the meaning of traditional songs within her language and culture, and also possibly produce some contemporary cultural songs suited to today’s learning environment.

Bob has also started a local language collective in Cowichan, B.C. that is writing and translating 100 stories into Hul’q’umi’num’.

The group has written approximately 60 stories, and Bob’s contribution has been four stories, complete with illustrations.

“There is a lot of healing I’ve found in our culture, our songs and our spirituality,” she says, “and I felt that my studies should lead in that direction. It’s not about deconstructing First Nations education but about renewing it through our language, culture and spiritual songs.”

MA student seeks to address Métis mental health issues

Is there a connection between cultural continuity and mental health for Métis people?

Monique Auger, a proud Métis woman from Vancouver Island, thinks there is. She is using her Graduate Aboriginal Scholarship to pursue a master of science, in the Faculty of Health Sciences, to explore this issue.

“There is a problem with mental health in the Métis community,” she says. “The epidemiological data show that Métis people suffer from mental health disparities such as depression and anxiety disorders. But there’s not a lot of contextual information as to why this is the case. That’s a gap I would like to address.”

Métis people are the descendants of the first unions between European settlers and Indigenous women. Today, the Métis are seen as a distinct nation, separate from First Nations and Inuit communities. In speaking about the impacts of ongoing colonialism with regard to her own family’s cultural discontinuity, Auger thinks this may be a contributing factor toward high rates of mental health problems.

She says there is a lack of overall health research addressing Métis health issues, and she would like to be at the vanguard of researchers who can address this issue.

Currently a consultant in Indigenous program evaluation with Reciprocal Consulting, she holds a BA in First Nations Studies from the University of Northern B.C. She has held a number of positions in community-based Aboriginal health research across the province, including with Indigenous Research Partnerships at UBC, and the Centre of Aboriginal Health Research at the University of Victoria. She also completed a community-based research project for her honours thesis at UNBC.

“At UNBC I conducted a qualitative study working with First Nations people with lower literacy levels. I looked at access to eye care and the social context of vision. That was such an amazing experience that I knew I wanted to continue with research, learning and working with community to build meaningful relationships—because that’s what leads to successful research.”

Auger is very involved in B.C.’s Métis community. She sits on the boards of the Unified Aboriginal Youth Collective as a youth representative for Métis Nation B.C., as well as the Knowledgeable Youth Association, which works to strengthen cultural connections within Vancouver’s Aboriginal youth population.

She chose SFU for her master’s program because she wanted to learn under the supervision of John O’Neil, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

“He has done some amazing work in Aboriginal health,” she says. “He’s culturally competent and forms meaningful partnerships. It was important to me to find someone like that.”