Leona-Grace Cook, a student in the Edwards School of Business, and one of the 43 recipients of this year’s Indigenous Achievement Awards.
Leona-Grace Cook, a student in the Edwards School of Business, and one of the 43 recipients of this year’s Indigenous Achievement Awards. (Photo: Submitted)

Edwards student recognized for resiliency during USask Indigenous Achievement Week

Leona-Grace Cook, a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, is completing her Bachelor of Commerce in Human Resources in the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

She is a recipient of the Resiliency Award at the annual USask Indigenous Achievement event that celebrates Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff, faculty, and alumni successes.

We asked Cook a few questions about her journey at Edwards and USask:

USask: Why did you choose Edwards School of Business?

Cook: Going to Edwards has always been a goal of mine since I graduated my SIIT Business Administration Diploma in 2016. A few of my friends are Edwards alumni and they had nothing but great experiences there. The way they spoke about Edwards being like a second home, I wanted to experience that for myself.

USask: What is the importance of your community in your life, and how has it impacted how you think about your education?

Cook: I love my community; I want my community and its members to be successful. I want to be a role model for the kids in the community. If I can go to university with all the obstacles I have, so can they. I want to bring back skills and knowledge that will help improve the community.

USask: How has being part of the Edwards community influenced your academic and personal development, and what advice do you have for incoming students considering a similar journey?

Cook: I have improved skills like time management, critical thinking, decision-making, problem solving, communication, and valuable inter-personal skills. I encourage incoming students to be open minded, get out of your shell and make meaningful connection with your peers. Engage in conversations with your peers, your professors, student advisors, create those connections that will last. We are all in this educational journey together. Some of the peers I met here are now my biggest supporters.

USask: How have your studies developed your knowledge, skills and leadership?

Cook: I worked in Human Resources for three years before coming to Edwards. One of the reasons for making that decision to return to school was knowing I had a gap in knowledge. I am five weeks away from completing my third year and I can already see how much knowledge I have gained, and new ideas to bring forward that will helped me upon my return to the Lac La Ronge Indian Band Human Resources Department.

USask: What does the word resiliency mean to you?

Cook: To me, resiliency means overcoming every obstacle you think is holding you back from achieving your goals and dreams. It means overcoming the feelings of guilt for not being with my kids 100 per cent of the time, like I am used to. It is finishing my assignments when I am exhausted from travel and ensuring I spent time with my kids or being sick. Being a single Indigenous woman with three kids, I never thought going back to university full time would have been an option for me, I am proud that I was able to overcome the many obstacles I have faced.

USask: What does receiving this award mean to you?

Cook: Apart from being recognized as an Indigenous student overcoming many barriers, to me this award is a way of my late mom telling me from the spirit world that she is proud of me. The award ceremony happens to be held on her birthday.

USask: Is there someone in your life who inspired you to get where you are today? 

Cook: Christopher Ratt. I remember telling him “It feels like I’ll never get my degree, and I’ve been doing part-time classes for a lifetime.” He responded with, “You are going to get your degree; you can do anything you want to do. Getting your degree will be beneficial for you and the kids,” then proceeded to help me with applications for admission and funding. I just needed someone who believed in me more than I did myself.

USask: What are your goals for the future?

Cook: Upon completion of my schooling, I will return to my First Nation, Lac La Ronge Indian Band in the capacity of Human Resources Officer. I want to give back to my First Nation while also encouraging and being a role model for our LLRIB members to continue working on their education and careers. I do hope to hold a leadership role within LLRIB in the future. I have always looked up to our executive director, our councillors, our Chief, and our directors. I have learned a lot from them and am thankful to have been given the opportunity to work alongside them. Somewhere in between I would love to return to Edwards to obtain a Master of Business Administration.

USask: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Cook: I want to give a special appreciation to my kids, Christopher Ratt, Elvira Hennie, Florence Ratt, my dad, my brother and his wife, and LLRIB for supporting me. Without everyone’s help I would not have been able to make it this far in my educational journey.

You can find more information and a complete list of IAW events at USask’s Indigenous Achievement Week spotlight: https://spotlight.usask.ca/indigenous-achievement-week/index.php#top

Together, we will work towards Truth and Reconciliation. We invite you to join by supporting Indigenous achievement at USask.