Duford Foundation gives $500 000 for Indigenous scholarships in law, medicine

Indigenous scholarships
Indigenous beadwork
A $500,000-bequest from a lifelong Indigenous ally is moving the University of Ottawa closer to its goal of re-Imagining the campus as a place of belonging for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.

The late Marguerite (Margot) Duford, who died in May 2018 at the age of 93, left the gift for scholarships for Indigenous students through the Jean Baptiste Duford and Marguerite St. Julien Duford Foundation. She had established the foundation in memory of her parents.

The gift will go toward scholarships of at least $2500 each for Indigenous students in the faculties of Law and Medicine, at the stipulation of Matthew Ebbs, (Law ’93) Duford’s executor and the president of the Foundation.

Creating and re-allocating scholarships and bursaries for Indigenous graduate students is one of the goals of uOttawa’s Indigenous Action Plan, published in 2020.

Graduate scholarships

Currently, most scholarships for Indigenous students focus on people entering undergraduate programs, says Tareyn Johnson, uOttawa’s director of Indigenous Affairs. There is less money available for students in Master’s, PhD or other graduate programs.

Assisting First Nations, Métis and Inuit students at the graduate level is critical to gaining more doctoral students and, eventually, to improving Indigenous representation at the faculty level – all goals of the Indigenous Action Plan, and critical to helping uOttawa become a place where more Indigenous students feel welcome, says Johnson, who co-wrote the plan.

Some faculties, like law, naturally attract Indigenous students, says Johnson.

“That’s because we have Indigenous legal systems,” she explains. “We’re sovereign nations within Canada and we have our own legal structures, and Indigenous students are interested in law because it’s part of our culture.”

Other faculties, such as engineering, admit few Indigenous students – in part because they don’t see themselves reflected there, either through the curriculum or in faculty members, Johnson says.

“Scholarships and bursaries in those areas would be a draw,” she says.

Reduce barriers and increase accessibility for Indigenous students

Financial support for Indigenous students in all faculties needs to be flexible, to recognize the barriers those students face in pursuing higher education, says Johnson, such as the fact that many Indigenous students come from northern or remote communities with high travel costs.

Because of their tight kinship structure, Indigenous students often need to return home if there has been a death or illness in their community. The cost of that travel has, in the past, meant some students did not return to the university once they did go home.

Many First Nations, Metis and Inuit students at uOttawa are also among the first generation in their families to attend university, and so are less prepared for the hardships of finding housing and mentoring or tutoring supports. Many Indigenous students also study part-time while supporting families or working – making them ineligible for many scholarships.

Creating scholarships and bursaries that respond to and reflect these challenges will go a long way to attracting and maintaining more Indigenous students, Johnson suggests.

Increasing the Aboriginal presence at uOttawa

Of the more than 40,000 students at uOttawa, only about 450 self-identify as Indigenous. That number could be four times higher, based on the number of potential students in the University’s catchment area, if they had increased financial aid and other supports.

“We’re missing out on a large group of Indigenous people who are qualified and capable of pursuing (higher) education,” says Johnson.  “There are just so many odds stacked against them that a lot of the time they don’t even pursue it.”

Scholarships like those the Duford Foundation has endowed are a welcome step in evening the odds, and in taking uOttawa further along the path to reconciliation, Johnson adds.

“We do need more Indigenous people that have higher education, and the funding and the support of Indigenous students is a form of reconciliation to help bring them,” she says. “If the university can … help Indigenous students be successful, that really is their responsibility.”

A long-standing admiration for the stewards of the land

The Duford family embraced that responsibility, dating back to J.B. Duford’s experiences as an outdoors enthusiast and business leader who admired the land stewardship and values of his Indigenous friends and associates, says Ebbs.  

“The family had an affinity with the Indigenous community,” he says.

Duford, who was educated in convent and finishing schools, was a well-read, widely travelled patron of the arts, says Ebbs.

She was a “bright, progressive, energetic person that was ahead of her time.”

Although the bequest predates the discovery of graves at residential schools across Canada, he believes these tragedies would have deepened his client and friend’s commitment to assisting Indigenous peoples however she could. 

“Margot would have been heartbroken, as would her family,” says Ebbs.  

He chose the University of Ottawa to receive the scholarships because Duford was part of the broader uOttawa community, attending St. Joseph’s Church and living in Sandy Hill before her death.

Duford believed supporting Indigenous students to become doctors and lawyers would enable them to become leaders in their communities and throughout Canada, helping in the fight against poverty and injustice.  

“It’s a pay-it-forward perspective on helping the Indigenous community coast-to-coast,” Ebbs says.