Since 1913, 71 talented students from the University of Alberta have been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, the world’s oldest and most prolific fellowship programme.

This year however, the University has beaten its personal best, boasting three students who have been named Rhodes Scholars, the largest number of students ever chosen in a single year in the history of the institution. All three students plan to pursue postgraduate degrees at Oxford University next year.

A total of 11 Canadian students were selected as 2016 Rhodes Scholars. The winners from Alberta include Billy-Ray Belcourt, a 21-year old comparative literature student, and the first First Nations Canadian student to be awarded the prestigious scholarship.

Belcourt grew up with his grandparents in Driftpile First Nation, north western Alberta, and has been raised with firm roots in indigenous culture, serving as an advocate for aboriginal, queer and trans-rights.

The young man has high aspirations, with plans to undertake a master’s in women’s studies and another in medical anthropology at one of the world’s most distinguished universities.

He says: “I want people to know that I’m very much interested in returning the knowledge that I acquire from Oxford to my community, to the University of Alberta and to indigenous people in Canada and in general, and that I do work from a grassroots, more radical political framework and that I’m only one of many up-and-coming indigenous scholars across Canada.”

Belcourt is the current President of the University’s Aboriginal Student Council, and is also a youth facilitator for the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

“I’ve been getting a huge wave of support from people across Canada, especially First Nations and other indigenous people,” adds Belcourt. “Even people globally have been sending me messages on social media and my community back home, Driftpile First Nation, is super excited and they’ve been spreading the news.”

Image via Navut.

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