Bursary recipient focused on family and community

Published on April 13, 2023

The Four Directions Bursary is for Aboriginal (First Nation (Status and Non-Status), Métis, & Inuit) students who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the Canadian Indian Residential School system.

Kelly Orr was surprised when she learned she was NAIT’s latest recipient of the bursary in January 2023.

We recently spoke with Kelly about her life experiences and how her NAIT education and this bursary are helping to create a brighter future for her family and community.  

Resisting stereotypes

Kelly, the daughter of a residential school survivor and has experienced first-hand the effects of intergenerational trauma. She grew up in a small rural town in Manitoba. “Right off the bat, I was faced with adversity and had stigmas put on me,” says Kelly. “In high school, I was one of very few Indigenous people in a predominantly Caucasian community. I had to work extra hard to prove myself as a student, an athlete, and as a community member.”  

After graduating high school, Kelly moved and went to college studying early childhood education. She completed a diploma and spent five years working in the education field. “In my early adulthood, I spent time in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver where I was introduced to city life and a more varied cultural experience. During part of this time, I unfortunately, was also in a relationship which turned abusive. After leaving that relationship and dark time in my life, I met my current spouse and started working in the oilfield industry. Deciding to go back to school had a lot to do with wanting to give my children the best life possible, instill positive values in them and set them up for success.” 

Partnering with Portage College 

Kelly is completing her degree at Portage College in Cold Lake, AB. Through a partnership between NAIT and Portage College, students can take the third and fourth year of NAIT’s Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree with a specialization in Management.  

“My two sons are settled here in Cold Lake. This is their home. This is where they were born. And I thought, ‘I'm getting another chance to get my degree and I can do it right here down the road from my house, so why not take advantage of this opportunity?’ It’s a great thing to be able to stay in my community and get a recognized credential without having to move. I never would have been able to get it, otherwise.” 

The challenges of going back to school 

“When I first went back to school, I was working part-time. It was very hard balancing a part-time job while being a full-time student, mother and wife. I couldn’t continue to do it all, so I decided to focus on completing my NAIT degree and gave up my part-time work.” 

Adding to life’s pressures, Kelly’s common law husband was diagnosed with cancer. “He was in full-time treatment which meant he was unable to work. We would spend Monday to Friday in Edmonton away from our children while he completed his treatments. This was during the Pandemic and therefore classes were online. I would often listen to lectures and complete assignments at the Cross Cancer Institute and in the hotel room. With no income, I relied on scholarships to help pay the bills. Our children were not only affected by our absence during the week, but the lack of income meant they could not participate in extracurricular activities like they were used to.” 

COVID-19 also exacerbated these financial challenges in the form of increased prices for necessities and Kelly was also diagnosed with depression during this time.  

“We are so grateful that he is now in remission and there is a renewed sense of normalcy.” 

Bursary provides help along the way 

Through it all, Kelly has persevered and says, “It was a wonderful surprise when I received the Four Directions Bursary a few months ago. It seems like when you're struggling and don't know what you're going to do next, something always works out. This was one of those things that worked out for me. I received the bursary funds right after Christmas. It helped me provide for my family and gave me an extra push to continue striving and get through days when I wake up and think, ‘I can’t do this.’” 

These past few years have been a whirlwind and struggle on many fronts, but Kelly is set to graduate in April 2023. “I'm excited that it’s finally happening.”  

Kelly intends to demonstrate her commitment to reconciliation through creating professional environments for Indigenous people to grow and build their skills and experience.  

She wants to use her degree to get into the field of Indigenous economic development. “My goal is to work with Indigenous owned and operated businesses to create sustainable business strategies.” 

Kelly is also interested in Indigenous Relations where she would work with communities as a liaison between them and industry.  

“There's a history of low trust, accountability and transparency between the industry and Indigenous communities. This must be built up.  We will always need someone in the middle to bring the two parties together. I want to be that person. 

“Thanks again to all who have donated to make the Four Directions Bursary possible. It has made a difference for me in more ways than just financially. I am one step closer to my goals because of you.”