Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society Indigenous Student Awards Program

Indigenous Student Award Program

In 2004, working with the Victoria Foundation, the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society (colloquially known as the IKB) was established, funding transfer scholarships, an international scholarship program, and the Indigenous Student Award program. As a testament to its success, in 2021, the IKB funded $2.3 million in awards to 650 Indigenous students in B.C.  

The Indigenous awards program is IKB’s largest program and is on track to award in excess of $1.8 million to Indigenous students in B.C. this year. Annually the society expects to review over 500 individual applicants and anticipates granting about 300 awards.  

Students who identify as Indigenous — First Nations (Status or Non-Status), Métis, or Inuit — are invited to apply for a renewable award from the IKB within one of two categories: undergraduate and post-graduate. The awards can span multiple years for students enrolling in trades training and apprenticeship programs or diploma, certificate, degree, or post-degree programs in public post-secondary institutions in B.C. 


Valuing Community

Rory Grewar, program director for the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society, explained, “In Canada, community service — volunteerism — is highly regarded, but what’s been revealed in recent years, particularly in disadvantaged communities, is that volunteering is sometimes a luxury available only to a privileged group. Many of today’s students don’t have time to volunteer but are serving their communities and families in other manners.” 

“Granting organizations of any kind, like the Victoria Foundation or the Irving K. Barber Society, have a plan about how ’they’re going to help,” said Rory. “One of the things the Victoria Foundation has instilled in me is this need to understand the community you’re inviting to apply. One size does not fit all. The applications our international students share are different from the applications our Indigenous students submit because the stories they have to tell are different. A one-size-fits-all application — with the same questions about how you volunteer or what your grades are or what your teacher said to you — doesn’t help you engage with the community you’re professing to serve.” 

To address the wide range of interpretations of community involvement, the IKB looks beyond the traditional view of volunteering, with a flexible application process designed to uncover applicants who have a plan to succeed on their academic path. “We’ve invested significant time and energy in training our adjudicators to recognize value in other ways,” said Rory. “The applications we’ve developed are designed to be responsive, meeting the actual needs of the applicants to ensure we’re able to recognize the people who can be successful because of this award.” 

Building Trust

Jamie Coukell received an Indigenous award for her studies in the kinesiology program at UBC. She plans to build a career in physiotherapy and rehabilitation and help Indigenous communities as a healthcare worker. “The IKB award from people I’ve never met face-to-face has been tremendously helpful,” shared Jamie. “Their support has been evident and appreciated throughout my whole first year. They reached out to me to hear my story — something that no other scholarship has asked me for. It shows that they were fully invested in my educational journey, even after I had won the scholarship.” 

“University can be very uncertain times, and you can get that impostor syndrome, questioning whether you’re capable of it all. As students, I think we’re our biggest critics, but knowing that people who I’ve never even met before had so much trust in me was truly appreciated.” — Jamie Coukell, Indigenous award recipient 

Building Legacy

Blaise McDonald received the Indigenous award in 2012 for the construction management undergraduate program at BCIT. The program was designed to help learners build the skills necessary to effectively manage construction projects — critical thinking, analysis, and how to choose and use appropriate tools and processes to keep the project on track. After graduating with distinction, Blaise returned to Victoria with the tools and knowledge required to take over MAC Renovations and make it a leading organization for homeowners in Greater Victoria. 

Through his program and from wisdom developed on the job, Blaise recognizes that learning happens academically and experientially and has created opportunities for both paths at MAC. Under Blaise’s direction, the company offers an active apprenticeship program that informs the development of four apprentices through their Red Seal certification and an internship program giving a fourth-year architectural student the opportunity to learn the skills and processes required to become an exceptional professional. A learning allowance at MAC encourages personal and professional growth for all employees. “The award showed me the importance of taking chances on students and interns and in giving back to the community,” said Blaise.  

“Your legacy is the impact you make on your industry — building people up, teaching the craft, and raising the bar.” — Blaise McDonald, Indigenous award recipient 

Irving K. Barber

A high-school dropout in grade 11, Barber returned to post-secondary education in 1950 at the age of 27, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry from UBC and unlocking a highly successful career in the lumber industry of B.C. His passion for improving access to education led to the development of numerous endowments to institutions and educational causes throughout the province.

“I want this money to open the doors of post-secondary education to a segment of our society that would never otherwise attend university… I’m one of those ‘second chance’ people.” — Irving K. Barker

Find more student success stories, as well as application information, on the IKB website.