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Ainsley Whynacht, a white Canadian student, is facing serious backlash after winning and receiving a scholarship meant for Indigenous students.
In a series of Instagram posts, Whynacht explains that she applied for an “aboriginal” scholarship by writing an essay about the mistreatment of Indigenous kids at school and won the competition, despite not being Indigenous.
“So I applied for an aboriginal scholarship a few months ago n wrote some random essay on treatment of indigenous kids in school and???? I actually got the scholarship?? Good thing they don’t have to look at me n noticed I’m the whitest person ever,” Whynacht allegedly wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post.
In another post, Whynacht can be seen posing with a bottle of self-tanning lotion.
“So turns out I won that scholarship nationally not provincially and like tens of thousands of people over Canada apply for it and I’m the third person in 30 years from Nova Scotia to win so I have to do a photo op next Friday?? With one of those giant checks?? So it’s time for ya girl to fake a tan or else that’s gonna be embarrassing asf,” she captioned the photo.
Shortly after Whynacht’s posts, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) posted a picture of Whynacht receiving the NSGEU Scholarship for Indigenous Students on its Facebook page, along with a long congratulatory message.
“Ainsley was awarded the Scholarship for Indigenous Students, with her essay commenting on how the lack of access to public services has negatively impacted the lives of Indigenous people in Canada on reserves. Great work, Ainsley!” NSGEU wrote.
People called out the deception on social media.
“THIS IS BLATANT THEFT FROM INDIGENOUS PEOPLE Even as a Native person I would never apply for a scholarship like this because I am not enrolled, nor live on a reservation and experience it’s potential hardships. This is so disrespectful and I hope she gets this taken away,” Twitter user @N8VChey wrote, along with screenshots of Whynacht and NSGEU’s posts.
THIS IS BLATANT THEFT FROM INDIGENOUS PEOPLE— cheyanne (@N8VChey) November 8, 2019
Even as a Native person I would never apply for a scholarship like this because I am not enrolled, nor live on a reservation and experience it’s potential hardships. This is so disrespectful and I hope she gets this taken away pic.twitter.com/oOKjtlKUxA
Many were outraged by both Whynacht and the NSGEU for awarding a white student the scholarship.
This is so ugly.— Agnauraq (@agnauraqtweets) November 9, 2019
The self tan bottle..... omg. And she’s openly posting this online. Omg.— dammit, kim (@kimlesno) November 8, 2019
“As a Native person, I felt disgusted,” 24-year-old Cheyanne, who shared Whynacht’s post to Twitter, told the Daily Dot via email. “She wrote the essay on the hardships Indigenous people face on reservations, but she contributed to those hardships by basically stealing educational funds for an Indigenous student.”
Cheyanne believes some opportunities should be safeguarded for those who experience marginalization or oppression as a result of their heritage.
“As a Native woman who isn’t enrolled or lived on a reservation, I understand some things aren’t for me and I would never apply for a scholarship like this,” she explained. “I carry more privilege than my darker skinned relatives and those who have experienced racial injustices or hardships living on a reservation. It wouldn’t be right.”
NUSGE released a statement on Facebook, addressing the revelation.
“We are aware of the social media posts circulating about the recipient of the NUSGE Scholarship for Indigenous Students, this information has been passed on to the National Union, NUPGE, who administers this award, so they may investigate this matter further. It’s unfortunate that people say offensive things on social media that they end up regretting,” NUSGE wrote on Facebook.
Like many others, Cheyanne thinks the statement is underwhelming.
“NSGEU’s response came off as a brisk ‘we aren’t really going to do anything, but here’s a post to make you think we are,’” Cheyanne explained. “When they talked about it being unfortunate that people say offensive things on social media, they were probably referencing those who were calling her out. I think it’s unfortunate that they give Indigenous scholarships to people who aren’t indigenous.”
Update 2:03pm CT, Nov. 11: Whynacht’s mother has directed the Daily Dot to a statement the student made to Global News Canada, in which she says she is Indigenous herself but takes ownership of the posts and apologizes for them. Whynacht says they were private and intended for friends only.
“The colour of my skin does not erase my heritage, or my anger towards their treatment that I wrote very passionately about in the essay that won me this scholarship. … Even the suggestion that I would fake my ethnic background is truly insulting for me and is just another example of people not taking my ancestry seriously just because I do not exactly ‘look the role’, as I have been told.”
Tiffanie Drayton is a geek culture and lifestyle reporter whose work covers everything from gender and race to anime and Xbox. Her work has appeared in Complex, Salon, Marie Claire, Playboy, and elsewhere.