NWAC Helen Bassett Commemorative Student Award

Every year, NWAC coordinates the Helen Bassett Commemorative Award granted to four young Indigenous women in the amount of $1,000 each. The awards are made possible by the generous donation of Helen Bassett. Helen Bassett was an Ontario artist and an amazing woman who tried to make a difference as an individual and engage the government into fair solutions to Aboriginal land claim issues.

After befriending an Aboriginal artist and learning through him about the plight of Indigenous people, Ms. Bassett became passionate about the issue and had special concern for the advancement of Indigenous women. In her selflessness, she specified NWAC as one of the beneficiaries of her estate in her will, which helped to sustain our postsecondary student awards program to this day. Ms. Bassett felt strongly about the land rights of Indigenous people and decided to try and make a difference as an individual. She directed open letters to Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet in 1980 and again in 1983, proposing a plan that a tax be levied on all land transactions in Canada, to be assigned as royalty to the native people, in payment for the possession and use of the land. She reflected these ideas in her booklet “Native Rights”.

The Challenge

 Previous years have shown over 60 to 80 applications for 4 awards. This overwhelming response shows that Aboriginal women require more funding resources. As the only support available is provided by Helen Bassett’s estate, the NWAC Youth Department continuously looks for ways to increase the award amount.

The Program

Awards are provided to 4 Aboriginal youth from each of the four directions as per NWAC’s cultural framework: North, South, East, and West. The NWAC Youth Helen Bassett Commemorative Award is coordinated by the Youth Department and the selection process and committee are led by Aboriginal youth. Eligibility criteria for the Helen Bassett Commemorative Student Award:

Applicants must:

  • Be currently pursuing post-secondary studies (priority is given to students who are studying law or are in a law related field)
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Be an Aboriginal woman under 31 years of age
  • Demonstrate a commitment to improving the situation of Aboriginal women and youth in Canada politically, culturally, economically or otherwise


2017 Helen Bassett Commemorative Student Award Recipients


Desirée Duplessis is a 2017 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.

Desirée Duplessis

Desirée Duplessis is Anishinaabe; her hobbies include writing, volleyball, and baking. She is currently in her third year of the Juris Doctor program at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Law. She focuses her efforts on Indigenous law and social justice issues such as MMIWG2S and advocacy for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. Desirée hopes to continue to work in these fields after graduation.






Tamara Takpanie is a 2017 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.

Tamara Takpanie

Tamara Takpannie is a 23 year old urban Inuk. She is currently studying full time at Carleton University in Ottawa pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology and Indigenous Studies. She serves as Vice President on the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre (OICC) Board of Directors. Tamara has a passion for the welfare of children – in particular, the well-being of Inuit children in foster care in the south. She is a single parent to her five year old son who has just graduated from the OICC. Tamara is very keen to keep the public updated on Inuit issues in today’s society. She is a professional throat singer and gives her audience background information on the histories of Inuit in Canada.



Leah Combs is a 2017 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.

Leah Combs

Leah Combs is a citizen of the Métis Nation of British Columbia and is rooted in the historic Métis settlements in the Red River and Île-à-la-Crosse. At Queen’s University, Leah led the creation of a theatre production that aimed to bring awareness to the crisis of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She is currently a second year Juris Doctor of Law student at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. Upon completion of this program, Leah hopes to work with and expand upon the small restorative justice program in her home town of Kamloops while building a practice based on criminal defense and Indigenous law.




Sophie Johnston is a 2017 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.

Sophie Johnston

Sophie Bender Johnston (Ookishkimaanisii) is an Anishinaabe-kwe and a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies and Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She is a founding member of the ekwí’7tl Indigenous doula collective. As a birth doula, she offers physical, emotional, and spiritual support to Indigenous people throughout the spectrum of pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. She will be beginning her training as a midwife at Ryerson University this fall and hopes to practice in rural and underserved Indigenous communities.