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Knowledge for her community

Bursaries help Shiann Wahéhshon Whitebean balance First Peoples Studies and raising three children

For Shiann Wahéhshon Whitebean, a university education is about bringing it all back home.

“I want to get at the heart of First Peoples issues and share that knowledge with my community,” says Whitebean, who resides in Kahnawà:ke, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory.

That’s why Whitebean enrolled in Concordia’s First Peoples Studies major — which focuses on First Nations, Inuit and Métis within Canada — in 2013. It’s the first program of its kind in Quebec. 

Shiann Wahéhshon Whitebean “Without scholarships and community sponsorship, it would be very difficult for me to attend university,” says Shiann Wahéhshon Whitebean.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming for a bachelor’s degree,” says Whitebean, a mother of three — with two boys aged 15 and 9, and a 7-year-old daughter. “I really fell in love with it. I’d like to complete a PhD eventually.”

Whitebean entered Concordia as a mature student, as she had to leave CEGEP to raise her first child. The

Dorothy May Perrett Memorial Scholarship and the First Nations, Métis and Inuit bursaries that Whitebean receives are vital support.

“Without scholarships and community sponsorship, it would be very difficult for me to attend university.”

Her hope is to one day pay it forward. “I’d like to be in a position in the future where I could offer scholarships to Indigenous people,” she says.

A day in the life

“My day starts with getting my three children ready for school,” says Whitebean. From there, she faces a 90-minute commute across the Mercier Bridge from Kahnawà:ke — which is south of Montreal — to Concordia.

“I just think of my kids,” she says on what gets her through a full day of school and the round trip. “They’re already talking about going to CEGEP and university themselves.”

Whitebean has after-school commitments — adding to the length of her day. She is the founder and was the first president of Concordia’s First Peoples Studies Member Association. She is also trying to bring back the Native student association at Concordia.

“I hope to promote exchanges between Indigenous and Non-indigenous people,” she says on her motivation.

Even with a demanding schedule, Whitebean managed to make the Faculty of Arts and Science dean’s list. She is also a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, which is reserved for students at participating universities with grades in the top 15 percentile.

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