Before getting involved in the Ch’nook Scholars program as an MBA student, Joel English wasn’t sure how he could bring together his own personal view of culture and traditional ways with business. He had always seen these aspects of himself, and the world, as competing with each other.
In the Haskayne School of Business MBA program, English learned how each person can bring their personal passions to their career. Through the Ch’nook Scholars program, he connected with other Indigenous students and leaders and saw them bringing their beliefs and values to business.
The Ch’nook Scholars program was initially developed as a scholarship program out of the University of British Columbia for Indigenous business students, but it now offers leadership programming, business knowledge, and networking with Indigenous business leaders and students, in addition to scholarship funds. The Haskayne School is the only location for Ch’nook Scholars outside of B.C., and this connection is largely due to Dr. David Lertzman, PhD, who headed the program in Calgary until his death in 2021. English became the program's co-ordinator with the loss of Lertzman.
- Photo above: Previous and present UCalgary Ch’nook Scholars. From left: Portia Torigoe; Emily Parker; Benjamin Cooper-Janvier, BComm'20 (previous scholar); Mackenzie Beerbaum, BComm'21 (previous scholar); Joel English (previous scholar and current program co-ordinator); Darren Rea; and Kiara Johnson.
“This program was one of those areas where support was needed, so I was definitely happy to step up,” says English, MBA'21. “I never knew that it was going to be difficult, but, when you're on the selection committee, it is hard deciding.”
The UCalgary spots for Ch’nook Scholars are generously supported by Canadian Western Bank.
“CWB is dedicated to enabling business and promoting inclusivity through our community giving program,” says Lacey Jansen, manager of community engagement at CWB. “We want to empower the next generation of Indigenous business leaders by supporting education programs, like Ch’nook Scholars, that foster inclusivity and create more opportunities.”
Scholars need to reapply each year, and the application number increased in 2022-2023 from the previous year. There were more applications for 2022-2023 than for the previous year. The 2022-2023 UCalgary Ch’nook Scholars are: Kiara Johnson, BComm’23 general business with a minor in Indigenous studies; Emily Parker, BComm’24, majoring in accounting; Darren Rea, BComm’23 majoring in entrepreneurship and innovation; and Portia Torigoe, BComm’25, majoring in international business.
First-year scholar perspective
“You're not just getting money; you're getting a whole experience,” says Rea. “You're getting all these connections along with it. And they're valuable connections to people on the same path.”
Rea embraced his first and only year in the program. Growing up, he was not immersed in his Indigenous culture, but he has been working to reclaim this lost connection, including meeting his great aunt to be tutored in the Cree language.
The scholars agree that gathering with people from other nations and listening to the stories and teachings is eye-opening – particularly learning about the coastal traditions. Commerce was happening between West Coast Nations and those in the Prairies long before others settled in the area.
Second-year scholars focus on connections
“Because I’m graduating this semester, it felt a little bit different,” says Johnson. “Last year, I was more focused on development, and partly looking for employment. This year, it felt like this is like my last opportunity to get to know these people, so I was more so looking to make those connections.”
Johnson also shared the most impactful part of the Ch’nook Scholars program for her – the exploration of intersectionality and how new ideas can be explored in business. Intersectionality in business benefits everyone, ensuring people are accepted.
Adds Torigoe: “Similarly to Darren, I never grew up immersed in Indigenous culture. This program was a wonderful opportunity to work towards not only reclaiming this heritage, but also it was a fantastic opportunity to learn from other Indigenous students.
“Last year, I definitely thought of myself as an outsider, but this group never fails to be warm and inclusive. No matter your story or heritage, you were meant to be a part of this group. We all still talk and share resources or opportunities even now.”
Next seven generations
Says Parker: “I sit on my in my nation's Indigenous settlement corporation – an investment fund for the next seven generations. I have been really honoured to be at that table, to be able to advocate and make hopefully help with decisions.”
Through the Ch’nook Scholars gatherings, Parker has been able to connect with others who also manage investments funds to learn from their experiences.
When the scholars gathered in-person, there was a graduation ceremony for the previous scholars and the connection to future generations was clearly a part of the ceremony.
“They had these amazing dancers, and I remember feeling so overwhelmed watching them,” says Johnson. “I was feeling so emotional from this, and I was starting to cry, and then I looked over at Portia, and she was also crying.”
Adds English: “I was crying too. That was the first time I was away from my son in, like, five years, and he was probably the same size of the little boy that was dancing.”
Being in a place where the common values and understanding can be felt in an instant and shared with a glance creates a tremendous feeling of belonging that is priceless.