Toni Whitebear, a First Nations learner from Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta., is completing a Bachelor of Commerce (BComm) through Athabasca University’s (AU) collaborative partnership with the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Alberta (AFOA).
Education opens doors
In 2012, while working for Niwihcihaw Acceptance Ltd., a financial support and loan office for the Nation, Whitebear was encouraged by her manager to take courses with AFOA Alberta. Whitebear earned her Certificate in Aboriginal Financial Management with AFOA Alberta in 2015.
“AFOA Alberta helped me get on the right path,” Whitebear says. “I’m constantly learning … I’m 41 years old and working towards my degree. Education opens doors and new opportunities.”
“The courses AU and AFOA Alberta offer are great—you can do them anywhere. I read my textbooks at my sons’ hockey practices. Whenever I have a free minute, I have my textbooks with me. You don’t have to sit in class all day.”– Toni Whitebear
Flexibility that worked for her
AFOA Alberta helped Whitebear surpass educational barriers to enrol with the Faculty of Business at AU. A devoted mother of seven, Whitebear praises the flexible schedule that AU and AFOA Alberta offer her in the BComm program.
“The courses AU and AFOA Alberta offer are great—you can do them anywhere,” she says. “I read my textbooks at my sons’ hockey practices. Whenever I have a free minute, I have my textbooks with me. You don’t have to sit in class all day.”
The courses offered by AFOA Alberta are designed for Indigenous Peoples living in Alberta, who benefit from the Indigenous-focused curriculum by bringing back what they’ve learned to help their communities.
“Indigenous Peoples from all over Alberta come together … we get to know each other and network,” Whitebear says. “Courses are geared towards what we know. It’s relevant to working with the Nation. AFOA Alberta and AU chose the right people to teach us and help us learn–they’re really good educators.”
Robert Andrews, executive director of AFOA, has been a supportive, encouraging force for Whitebear’s educational journey. Whitebear says that instructors, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are also willing to connect with each learner for a one-of-a-kind, hands-on experience.
“I look forward to getting my degree and using it to help my community. I want us to succeed and flourish in life. It’s opened doors for me—that’s for sure.”– Toni Whitebear
Courses written and designed by Indigenous Peoples
When Whitebear took Introduction to Indigenous Business, the course was taught by an instructor of Cree descent—one of many courses taught by Indigenous instructors. Course material has also been designed and written by Indigenous Peoples, including a textbook co-written by a community member from Maskwacis, along with other professionals. One of AFOA’s goals is for AU students to create self-sufficient, flourishing Nations where everyone is encouraged to participate in secondary education.
“There are a lot of students in my community,” Whitebear says. “A lot of learners with AFOA Alberta and AU … I’ve been able to reach out to people in my community about classes. I opened my circle. It’s not just me, it’s we. It’s all of us in the community.”
Whitebear is a passionate advocate for financial literacy in the Nation. She is using her education with AFOA Alberta and AU to help her apply to positions on boards and committees that work to make her community a better place. She hopes she will be able to influence the creation of programs that teach youth in Maskwacis about investment, credit, and financial planning for the future.
“I look forward to getting my degree and using it to help my community,” Whitebear says. “I want us to succeed and flourish in life. It’s opened doors for me, that’s for sure.”
Learn more about about the business degree that’s been written by and designed for Indigenous learners. If you’d like to chat with somebody about enrolment or credit for past education, get in touch with one of AU’s business support team members today!