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Making university accessible

June 14, 2018

At the northernmost point of BC’s remote Highway 16, where the Bulkley River meets the Skeena, you’ll find the tiny village of Hazelton. It was here, in this hamlet of 300 people today, that R. S. Sargent settled down to start a mercantile. The year was 1900.

Hazelton, which sits on a peninsula created by the two rivers, was originally a settlement of the Gitxsan people, who fished the rich waters of the Skeena and Bulkley for millennia. Many Indigenous peoples of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations still live in and around the area. Sargent, a former fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company, always credited his success as a merchant and entrepreneur to his positive partnerships with the local populations.

Two generations later, Richard Ingram—Sargent’s grandson—is honoring his grandfather’s legacy of partnership and friendship with Indigenous peoples by creating the Blue & Gold Bursary for Aboriginal Students at UBC Okanagan and funding the first Indigenous Book Collection at the UBC Okanagan Library.

Ingram, Vice President of RBC Wealth Management, has lived in Kelowna for over thirty years and both his children attended UBC Okanagan. A strong believer in supporting the community, he has supported UBC Okanagan with both time and resources since its inception.

Though he never met his grandfather, Ingram grew up in Hazelton, where he was influenced by his family’s deep involvement in helping to preserve the Indigenous history and culture of the area. For example, his aunt, Polly Sargent, a former Hazelton mayor, helped develop the ‘Ksan historical site, a replica Gitxsan village as well as a school for Native arts.

But he also saw how difficult it was for many area students to go to university. “There were a lot of really talented kids, but they didn’t always have the backing or support they needed,” Ingram says. “They have to be very determined and strongminded to do it,” he says, noting how difficult it can be to transition from a small, rural town to university. He hopes the Aboriginal Student Bursary will make the transition to university a little easier for deserving students, giving them the boost they need to thrive.

“If I can make a little bit of a difference for some child, I’m happy to do that,” Ingram says.

The bursary is part of UBC’s newly launched Blue & Gold Campaign for Students, which aims to raise $100 million in student support over three years and across both campuses.

Ingram hopes the Indigenous Book Collection, which will be named the R. S. Sargent Collection, can help build understanding and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. It will also lay a foundation for creating a rich, Okanagan-focused research collection that can be accessed by students, researchers, and community members.

“If this book collection can help people respect and understand (each other) better, I think that would be outstanding,” Ingram says.

Paige Hohmann, archivist and special collections librarian at UBC Okanagan’s Library, is working with a team to source the collection. It will include rare or out-of-print pieces that focus on the Okanagan, such as books published by Penticton’s Indigenous-run Theytus Publishing House and publications from the Sylix-Okanagan Nation Alliance.

“Having the collection for the library is important because it’s in line with our strategic goal to support coverage of Indigenous authors and issues as a library,” Hohmann says. “This support allows us to bring in a different, or a complementary, or a challenging perspective to other narratives that we often see in academic libraries.”

For Ingram, both gifts—whether they help one student get to university or the campus build its capacity for reconciliation—are motivated by the same convictions: “I made a decision a while ago that it was important to support youth, and important to support education. Those are my motivators.”

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  • “There were a lot of really talented kids, but they didn’t always have the backing or support they needed … If I can make a little bit of a difference for some child, I’m happy to do that”

    Richard Ingram