Awards for Indigenous students honour VIU grad killed in crash

Two new awards for Indigenous students have been created at Vancouver Island University in honour of former student Micah Messent, who died in March after the Ethiopian Airlines plane he was travelling in crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa.

The Micah Messent Memorial Indigenous Award will support an Indigenous student working toward a bachelor of arts in VIU’s Indigenous/Xwulmuxw Studies program. Messent was a graduate of that program. Preference will go to students who graduated from George P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay, which he also attended.

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The award will provide $1,200 annually in perpetuity through an endowment fund set up by Messent’s family through the VIU Foundation. Anyone wanting to support the fund can contact the foundation at 250-740-6214.

Messent’s family is hoping the fund will grow to allow for a larger award to cover educational costs, VIU spokesperson Jenn McGarrigle said.

The second award is the Micah Messent Memorial Environment Award, also for $1,200. It will be available to Indigenous students at VIU who have a history of community involvement and environmental advocacy.

Messent, who was 23, had Métis heritage through his mother. He was working with B.C. Parks throughout B.C., giving cultural-awareness workshops for staff. His goal was to return to school to earn a degree in Indigenous law.

He was in Ethiopia after being chosen to be part of a delegation attending the United Nations Assembly on the Environment. Everyone on board the plane — which was heading for Kenya — died in the crash.

His mother, Suzanne Camp, said in the VIU statement that her son “generously shared his skills and knowledge of Aboriginal history and culture with family, friends and co-workers.”

He helped people understand the importance of reconciliation, she said.

Jade Ballard, Messent’s sister, said the awards support his passions for education and the environment.

“We are trying to walk in his path a little bit — we’re thinking to ourselves: ‘What would Micah do?’ ” she said. “He always tried to lift everyone up and help move everyone forward together. Through this endowment, every year we hope to reflect on some of the issues he was passionate about, support communities and students, and help to create a better world.”

In October, an award in Messent’s name was announced by the B.C. government, supported by a $20,000 endowment from the Park Enhancement Fund.

The Micah Messent Young Professional Award of Excellence will go to an employee, intern, contractor or volunteer from a Canadian Parks Council member agency who is between 18 and 30 and has engaged and connected people with nature.

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