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Morley Wood Scholarship sparks a legacy of support for Indigenous women pursuing education

Morley Wood was deeply committed to supporting and improving the economic and social well-being of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan’s North.
Credit: Elaine Wood

Morley’s family established the Morley Wood Memorial Scholarship to support Indigenous women interested in pursuing higher education. (From left to right: Karen Condon, Blair Wood, Elaine Wood, Heather Wood, and Rob Wood)
Credit: Dave Traynor

Leaving a legacy, a tribute to Morley Wood – beloved father, friend, co-worker, and husband – is of great importance to those who knew Morley and his passion for improving the lives of people in northern Saskatchewan. Just over 35 years ago at the age of 49, Morley passed away after his battle with lung cancer.

“When we were growing up, Dad would say, ‘light a candle in your own corner,’” remembers his daughter Heather Wood BA’82. “We love northern Saskatchewan and the people we’ve gotten to know there. Creating a scholarship for Indigenous women was a way of essentially lighting a candle in our corner of the world.”

When Morley moved his family from Regina to northern Saskatchewan in the early ‘70s, he would have had little idea of the profound impact this experience would have on the rest of his and his young family’s life. For two years, Morley worked to help the provincial government establish a new department in La Ronge that would provide much needed financial, health, and social services for the people living in the North.

“It was the most amazing experience for our kids to live in the North,” recalls Elaine Wood, Morley’s widow. She and Morley grew up and met in Regina. “We lived in northern Saskatchewan while he played a major role in establishing the mini government. Morley’s work involved recruiting employees and securing the resources needed from the provincial government to finance the development of infrastructure, programs, and services in the North to meet Northerners’ needs. He was passionate about and spent many long hours building relationships and opening new lines of communication between the Northerners and the government.”

Their time spent in the North instilled in Morley, already a socially conscious person at heart, a deep desire to continue the work he had started. When they returned to the Queen City, he took a position with the federal government working as a Special ARDA project officer for the Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE). The Special ARDA program – which originated from the Agricultural and Rural Development Act of 1961 – served to help Indigenous entrepreneurs living in rural and remote areas across Canada to establish or expand their commercial ventures, assisting them with the knowledge, training, and tools needed to improve their economic and social circumstances.

Dick Lane BSc’90– a close family friend and colleague – worked with Morley to help improve economic opportunities for Indigenous people living in Saskatchewan’s North.

“Morley had a very strong sense of needing to provide assistance for the Indigenous people he met,” says Dick. “He took particular note of the women – their reliability and ability to nurture their families – but there weren’t as many educational opportunities for them. Some of them were getting through grade 12 but didn’t have the resources to go further.”

At the same time, jobs were opening up in the service industry in the North, such as teaching, nursing, and caregiving – employment particularly associated with women in the ’70s. People who had degrees were at an advantage for getting the jobs that were there.

“Dad saw the valuable opportunity that additional schooling provided people who chose to take it,” says Heather.

“But there were also all kinds of barriers – issues with Winter roads and inadequate schooling,” explains Elaine, remembering how many of the people in northern communities only had an elementary school education due to a lack of high schools. This meant that kids would have to leave their homes and travel to Saskatoon or Prince Albert in order to get further education.

When Morley’s life was cut short when he passed away in 1984, his family and friends came together to create a scholarship in his memory – the Morley Wood Memorial Scholarship for Aboriginal Female Students. The scholarship would provide a way to keep alive Morley’s passion for helping to improve the lives of Indigenous people in the North and address a gap in available student funding for Indigenous women who wished to pursue higher education.

“The scholarship was meant to help remove one of the barriers to higher education,” says Elaine.

When the scholarship was first created, the family had a role in reviewing the applications submitted. “It was so inspiring to read what these women were doing to get back to school,” recalls Elaine. “Many of the women were older with several children and worked several jobs. I’d love to hear from them.”

Having a scholarship that was specifically designed for Indigenous women was unique in 1985.

“It’s exciting to know that you’re making a difference,” says Heather. “It’s a sense of pride to know Morley’s scholarship is out there for them.”

Catherine Lane, Dick’s wife and friend of Morley, remembers Morley as a pioneer when society’s early interest in the welfare of young Indigenous women was just starting in the ’80s.

“As a student, it’s important to have role models and to be able to see yourself in the kinds of schooling that Morley’s scholarship supports,” stresses Catherine. “So when you look at students’ faces at the University of Regina, you should see some Indigenous faces; when you look at teachers’ faces, you should see Indigenous faces.”

Over the past 35 years, the scholarship has changed to meet the needs of its recipients. Originally established to support Indigenous women in pursuing post-secondary education in administration and entrepreneurial management in Saskatchewan’s post-secondary institutions, the scope of the Morley Wood Memorial Scholarship has been expanded. As well, the number of awards has increased from one to two per year of approximately $1,300 each.

“I think it’s important to support the U of R and to help young people on their journey, particularly young people who don’t have much wealth behind them,” says Dick. “The scholarship is a stepping stone.”

The Lanes have been contributing to the Morley Wood Memorial Scholarship for 35 years now. Despite the passage of time and the changes in their lives – they now live in Ontario – Dick and Catherine remain committed to supporting the scholarship.

“As long as my heart is ticking,” says Dick.

“Me, too,” echoes Catherine, a warm smile fills her voice. “It’s important for us to keep Morley around.”

For more information on the Morley Wood Memorial Scholarship for Aboriginal Female Students or to contribute to the Scholarship, contact Erin MacAulay-Davalos.

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