The family of Micah Messent, a VIU graduate who passed away in a plane crash last spring, is honouring his memory through a set of two awards that will support Indigenous students in need.

Messent, who graduated from Georges P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay in 2013 and from VIU in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous/Xwulmuxw Studies, was on his way to the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, last March when the Ethiopian Airlines plane he was on crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all passengers on board. He was only 23 years old.

Friends and family of Micah Messent remember him as a caring, community-oriented individual who focused on helping those around him. To honour this legacy of supporting and encouraging others, Messent’s family has established an endowment fund through the VIU Foundation.

“We are trying to walk in his path a little bit; we’re thinking to ourselves, ‘What would Micah do?’” explains his sister, Jade Ballard. “He always tried to lift everyone up and help move everyone forward together. Through this endowment, every year we hope to reflect on some of the issues he was passionate about, support communities and students, and help to create a better world.”

After graduating from VIU, Messent, who has Métis heritage on his mother’s side, started work with BC Parks in the Aboriginal Youth Internship Program in Victoria, travelling to various parks across the province to lead cultural awareness workshops for BC Parks employees. Messent planned to return to school to pursue a degree in Indigenous law.

“Micah generously shared his skills and knowledge of Aboriginal history and culture with family, friends, and co-workers,” remembers his mother, Suzanne Camp. “He was inclusive of all in a way that helped them understand the importance of reconciliation. It was important to him that we all knew about the history and treatment of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.”

After his death, Ballard said the family received an outpouring of support from the community, and people were asking how they could help. The family decided to start a GoFundMe page to help channel these efforts. With the proceeds, the family created the two awards that mirror Micah’s educational path.

The Micah Messent Memorial Indigenous Award will support an Indigenous learner entering the Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous/Xwulmuxw Studies program with preference to a student graduating from Georges P. Vanier Secondary School. The Micah Messent Memorial Environment Award will be available to Indigenous students continuing their studies at VIU who have a history of community involvement and environmental advocacy.

“We are supporting two of his passions—education and the environment,” Ballard said. “Micah grasped every opportunity he could; this legacy will allow others to do that.”

The endowment is currently large enough to support one of the awards in perpetuity, but the family is hoping to grow the fund so that both can continue to serve as a lasting legacy in Messent’s name. Anyone interested in supporting the endowment is encouraged to contact the VIU Foundation.