Inspiring Success - NIEEF - Michelle Francis Denny

Indigenous scholarship recipient furthering education to better assist her First Nation

By Sam Laskaris
Cando Contributor

Michelle Francis-Denny

Michelle Francis-Denny, a member of Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia, is pursuing her MBA through British Columbia's Simon Fraser University.

Michelle Francis-Denny already has a decent job and plenty of education.

But the member of Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia continues to further herself as she believes it will also benefit her community.

Francis-Denny has been working as her First Nation’s community liaison coordinator for the Boat Harbour Remediation Project since 2016.

Boat Harbour was a natural tidal estuary before 1967, connected to the Northumberland Strait by a small passage just east of Pictou Landing First Nation.

Since then, however, it has been receiving wastewater from various industries, which has led to a number of contaminants in the harbour’s sediment.

Francis-Denny and Boat Harbour Remediation Project officials from her community are working with federal and provincial regulators, technical advisors and scientists as well as local residents to develop a cleanup plan.

The cleanup project could commence in 2021 or possibly in 2022, after the environmental process is complete.

Francis-Denny believes she can improve her involvement on the project with some more schooling.

As a result, the 42-year-old is now taking her MBA in Indigenous Business Leadership through Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia.

“I feel I could do better,” Francis-Denny said of her decision to start working towards another degree. “I could do more and bring more to my community if I could develop myself more.”

Francis-Denny is also one of this year’s recipients of a $2,000 National Indigenous Economic Education Foundation (NIEEF) scholarship.

NIEEF is the charitable organization of Cando, which promoted economic development in Indigenous communities throughout Canada.

Francis-Denny welcomed the financial assistance of the NIEEF scholarship.

“My full tuition (for the MBA program) wasn’t covered by my tribal council,” she said.

So, she’ll put her recent scholarship money towards her education.

“That is definitely where I expect the money to go,” she said.

Francis-Denny said her expenses to obtain her master’s degree will quickly add up. She is expected to make several trips to B.C. so she can attend modules in person.

She anticipates it will cost $3,000 to take part in two-week modules and about $4,500 each time she travels west for four-week modules.

Her two-year program consists of eight semesters.

Ideally, she would have been in B.C. at the start of September to begin her program. But because of the pandemic, SFU officials are offering classes for her program remotely this semester.

“If things are clear enough (with the pandemic), I should be on campus in the spring,” Francis-Denny said.

Francis-Denny is also one of those featured in a 75-minute documentary, which includes details about the Boat Harbour Remediation Project. The film was co-directed and produced by Canadian actress Ellen Page.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, is titled There’s Something In The Water.

Francis-Denny’s previous academic background includes earning a development leadership diploma through the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University, a Masters certificate in project management through Saint Mary’s University and a Bachelor of Community Science degree through Cape Breton University.