Scholarship program supports student success in caribou country

Credit: BMC Minerals

JODY INKSTER HAS ALWAYS been drawn to working on the land.

“I am a Kaska person and it’s important to me and to the community that we have local and Indigenous people employed on our traditional territory,” she says. “We have a responsibility to make sure we’re protecting that land and water.”

Ensuring environmental protection is especially important when a company is interested in developing an industry – such as a mine – on that traditional territory.

In 2015, BMC Minerals acquired Kudz Ze Kayah, a copper, lead, zinc, gold, and silver project located in the northern Pelly Mountains, 135 kilometres south of Ross River in south-central Yukon. Kudz Ze Kayah means “caribou country” in the Kaska language.

A key part of the company’s philosophy is to invest in local communities to leave a positive legacy with long-term benefits.

In collaboration with Kaska people, BMC has established a scholarship program designed to support the next generation of professionals. The scholarships provide financial assistance for Kaska youth in secondary or post-secondary studies. There are four levels of support, from $500 a year for high school students to $5,000 a year for university students.

Jody was able to use funding from the scholarship program to further her education. She earned her Renewable Resource Management diploma in 2009. Then, she worked for a few years before going back to school to get her degree in Northern Environmental and Conservation Sciences through Yukon College’s partnership degree program with the University of Alberta.

“I would have struggled to cover some of my costs, especially for the last year,” she says. “It definitely made things much easier to cover my expenses, and not stress out so much.”

Currently, Jody, a Ross River Dena Council member, is working full-time at BMC Minerals.

“It definitely keeps me interested – there’s always something to learn,” she says. “We do environmental baseline monitoring; we do regular audits of the project; we meet with communities and the public; we do site tours with Elders and other contractors,” she says.

Liard First Nation citizen Frankie Magun was also able to use a scholarship from the BMC Minerals Kaska Student Study Program to enrol in Yukon College’s Health Care Assistant program. And that access to education is helping to make his lifelong dream to work in health care closer to becoming a reality.

“I enjoy helping people, and as a heath care assistant I can work with seniors and Elders in my home community of Watson Lake,” he says. “I see a lot of Elders that require help and I know it can be difficult for them to ask for it. I would like to be able to offer my assistance.”

The BMC Minerals Kaska Student Study Program is not a typical scholarship program. BMC believes in demonstrating its commitment to community development, so it initiated the program in 2016, five years before the mine was scheduled to go into production.

“We believe that the benefits of a working mine need to be shared, and with ownership comes responsibility,” says Rob McIntyre, BMC’s Vice-President of External Relations in Yukon. “We want to ensure that any future project on Kaska land brings jobs, training, contributions, and opportunities to supply the project for Kaska people.”

Now the program is entering its third year, and has already supported over 50 high school graduates, 14 Yukon College students, and 10 university students, including two university graduates who now work for BMC.

“We heard from Elders and political leaders from both the Ross River Dena Council and Liard First Nation,” says Rob. “We wanted the people involved to gain meaningful benefit from the project.”

Another key part of the scholarship program is to support Kaska youth, so they can be involved in the future management of the mine, which will be located on their traditional territory. To achieve this goal, Rob also visits the schools in Ross River and Watson Lake to talk to students about possible careers in the mining industry.

“We developed this program so that we can fulfill a commitment that we made to Kaska and we can involve Kaska people in the management of the mine,” Rob says. “We cannot do that without them going to college or university.”

In addition to the opportunities directly involved with working at the mine, these scholarships also give Kaska youth the chance to go further in whatever field they choose.

While Frankie is studying to earn his Health Care Assistant certificate, he’s also looking to his future goal of becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse.

“The scholarship was an incentive to do well in my studies,” he says. “It’s absolutely helped me and definitely encouraged me to get good marks.”

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