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

The Opportunity


2016 Helen Bassett Commemorative Student Award Recipients

Samantha Lee Dawson is a 2016 Helen Bassett Student Award recipient.



Samantha Lee Dawson
Whitehorse, YT

Samantha Lee Dawson is a member of the Selkirk First Nation and was born and raised in her traditional territory in the Yukon. She is currently in her third year at the University of British Columbia Law School where she will be graduating next year with specialization in Aboriginal law and Social Justice. She will be spending her articling year in the area of criminal defence while also involving herself with the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Circle (YAWC), one of NWAC’s Territorial Member Associations.



Alana Robert is a 2016 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.



Alana Robert
Winnipeg, MB

Alana Robert is from the Manitoba Métis Nation, and is pursuing her Juris Doctor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. She founded Justice For Women, which strives to eliminate gender-based violence through advocacy, education, and support. Through this work, Alana has led campaigns raising awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, while also making changes in her community at the University of Manitoba, where she created Consent Culture Workshops, a policy that requires this training for student leaders, and a Self-Care and Sexual Violence Resource Centre for students.



Leanna Gruendel is a 2016 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.

Leanna Gruendel
Victoria, BC

Leanna Gruendel is a Cree woman in her first year of the J.D. program at the University of Victoria Law School. She plans on focusing her degree on Aboriginal Law and Human Rights Law, and hopes to work towards improving justice services for Indigenous women. In her spare time, Leanna enjoys practicing photography and volunteering at her local Friendship Centre. Leanna is incredibly honoured to have been selected as a recipient of the 2016 Helen Bassett Commemorative Student Award.




Ashtyn McLean is a 2016 Helen Bassett Student Award winner.



Ashtyn McLean
St. George, NL

Ashtyn McLean is Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nations woman completing her Bachelor of Social Work at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Upon completion of her degree, Ashtyn is interested in working in the field of gerontology. Her hobbies include spending time with family and friends and taking part in outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and spending time at the family cabin.