Sault Ste. Marie – Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS) is delighted to introduce this year’s outstanding recipients of the Don McBain Memorial Award, an honour bestowed upon Indigenous students pursuing their first year of post-secondary studies. The award aims to support and empower students as they embark on their educational journey with a $5,000 award to support their academic pursuits. We proudly recognize Isaiah Shafqat, Keisha Panton, and Gavin Simionato as the recipients of this year’s award.

Isaiah Shafqat is a Mikmaw and Loon clan member, who recently graduated high school with a remarkable 92% grade average. He’s been deeply involved in community and student advocacy as the longest-serving Student Trustee at the Toronto District School Board where he championed policies like period product access, Indigenous language promotion, and curriculum changes. He also led initiatives like youth voting mobilization, an annual 2SLGBTQIA+ student pride week, and events supporting Truth and Reconciliation. Isaiah’s academic path includes pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in Human Rights and Human Diversity at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree at the University of Sussex, a unique program allowing him to earn both degrees in six years.

Keisha Panton-Hildebrand is from M’Chigeeng First Nation, and completed high school in just 3 ½ years, excelling despite the challenges posed by the pandemic through virtual online schooling. Her remarkable commitment to education is evident from her consistent presence on the honour roll for her final five semesters. Keisha is a part-time Personal Aide at a nursing home supporting Elders, and she looks forward to commencing her studies in the Developmental Services Worker Program at Cambrian College, where her positive impact on her community is sure to continue.

Gavin Simionato is from Bowmanville and identifies as an Upper Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Gavin’s leadership qualities are evident, as he was nominated as Director of the Fire Council at his school and is involved in beading projects that showcase his commitment to both his culture and community. He excels academically, consistently making the Honour Roll while balancing part-time work. Gavin is ready to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering degree at Queen’s University. He aspires to work in Formula 1 (F1) and make the sport more environmentally friendly due to his passion ignited during childhood by watching F1 races.

Each of these remarkable individuals exemplifies the spirit of the Don McBain Memorial Award. Don was the driving force behind the establishment of OAHS which was incorporated in 1994 and had a positive impact on the lives of everyone he encountered.  He worked tirelessly for decades carrying out OAHS’s mission and vision and demonstrated the true qualities of a leader for change. This award looks to Isaiah, Keisha, and Gavin as young minds who mirror Don’s perseverance and desire to help others.

OAHS expresses gratitude to all applicants for sharing their inspiring stories and to their mentors and peers for their heartfelt endorsements. Our sincere appreciation goes to our generous sponsors, including CGV Builders, SilverBirch Partners, Two Row Architect, Tache Construction, KRGInsure, Maximus Rose Living Benefits, and PD Realty Inc. Brokerage, whose contributions make this award possible.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to the Don McBain family and committee members for their dedicated efforts in reviewing applications and selecting these exceptional students.

Stay tuned for the announcement of next year’s award in Spring 2024!

Photo from left to right: Isaiah Shafqat, Keisha Panton-Hildebrand, and Gavin Simionato