The Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation Program addresses the under-representation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students at Canadian universities. One of the factors contributing to this is the lack of academic role models for these students. The Foundation addresses this by offering scholarships to Indigenous students in grades 11 and 12 to spend a week at a Canadian university interacting and learning with professors and their teams. During their week on campus students have the opportunity to meet role models, learn about the support systems that are available to them on campus, and experience the excitement of doing research. The VJKF Program develops motivated role models who foster the importance of graduating from high school and obtaining a postsecondary education.
LIFELONG ADVOCATE FOR INDIGENOUS EDUCATION
Verna J. Kirkness is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba. She is a lifelong advocate of Indigenous Education and has created many learning opportunities for Indigenous people at all levels. Her work to extend new programs, access and support services, and cultural enrichment have been the foundation on which scholars have continued to build.
Dr. Kirkness has written and edited nine books, one being her autobiography, entitled Creating Space and has published numerous articles on Indigenous education in academic journals in Canada and internationally. For more than five decades she has been a major spokesperson for Indigenous education. Her work has been recognized in numerous honours and awards. In 1990 she was voted Canadian Educator of the Year, in 1994 she received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire) for Education. She is a member of the Order of Canada (1998) and the Order of Manitoba (2007). She was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2003 and has six honorary doctorates.
Our Foundation was originally named the Family Food Research Foundation and was founded in 2008. Its goal was to increase the number of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students graduating from post-secondary science programs. The first program was started in 2009 as the “Be a Food Researcher for a Week,” which provided an opportunity for students to spend a week on campus learning about food research. Students also learned about supports available to them if they decided to pursue post-secondary studies.
In 2010, Dr. Verna J. Kirkness, who was widely regarded as the leading Indigenous educator in Canada, was introduced to the Foundation. She agreed to lend her name to the Foundation, which was then renamed the Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation.
From 2012 to 2014, the program was offered at the University of Manitoba. In 2015, a Program was added at the University of Saskatchewan and in 2016 at the University of British Columbia. In 2018, the program expanded to the University of Calgary, First Nations University of Canada and the University of Ottawa. In 2019, Programs were added at the University of Victoria and University of Alberta, bringing the number of programs to eight. In 2019, 130 students from across Canada attended our program and were mentored by 53 professors and research associates. In 2023, after offering online programs for the past couple of years due to COVID-19, we are returning to campus and planning on accepting 110 students to this year's program.
See Our Program in Action
To increase the number of Indigenous students graduating from pure and applied science, engineering, and mathematics programs in Canada.
Students are able to first hand experience what it is like to live, study and work on a university campus.
Students develop life long connections with their university mentors and other Indigenous students from across the country.