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OPG’s John Wesley Beaver awards recognize two future Indigenous leaders

Two promising Indigenous students were all smiles as they received OPG’s John Wesley Beaver Memorial Awards in early August.

Given annually to one male and one female Indigenous student, the John Wesley Beaver awards recognize and support talented individuals, each with a history of community involvement, academic excellence and hard work.

2019 John Wesley Beaver award recipients
2019 John Wesley Beaver award recipients Taylor Day and Anton Esquega hold silkscreen prints by Indigenous artist Rick Beaver.

This year’s award recipients were Taylor Day and Anton Esquega.

Day, who hails from the Akwesanse Mohawk Nation along the St. Lawrence River, earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Carleton University and is preparing to enter the law program at Queen’s University, with a focus on human rights and Indigenous law.

Fellow recipient Esquega is a member of Kiashke Zaaging Anishniaabek, also known as Gull Bay First Nation, located on the shores of Lake Nipigon. Esquega is currently enrolled in the two-year Aviation Maintenance Engineer program at Confederation College.

Both have demonstrated excellence in their studies and are active leaders and role models in their community.

“I almost felt weightless, as if my hard work was paying off in front of my own eyes,” Day said, describing her reaction to winning the award. “I’m so incredibly grateful that OPG saw my potential and believed in my future.”

Since she was in Grade 10, it has been a goal of Day’s to get into Queen’s Faculty of Law to help address the social justice issues facing Indigenous people. Her ultimate goal is to become a human rights attorney that primarily represents Indigenous people in the court of law.

“My career will be dedicated to helping those within my community and other Indigenous communities across Canada,” she said. “Through this award, OPG is not only helping me, but various Indigenous communities.”

Taylor Day, of Akwesasne Mohawk Nation (left), Indigenous artist Rick Beaver (son of John Wesley Beaver, middle), and Anton Esquega, of Kiashke Zaaging Anishniaabek/Gull Bay First Nation.

Meanwhile, Esquega is hoping to keep a dream alive that began with his grandfather, Tim Esquega, Sr. The elder Esquega purchased two aircraft and started a successful northern airline owned and operated by First Nations peoples.

Since he was a child, Esquega knew he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps with a career in aviation, whether as a pilot, a maintenance engineer, or designer.

“Once I complete this program, I would love to take the necessary training to become a pilot. Being able to fly a plane and fix it, I believe I can make this a reality,” said Esquega, who received an academic award of excellence for his studies and recently started a summer position working in the aircraft maintenance operations at Confederation College.

An active volunteer in his community, Esquega has assisted at annual pow-wows and supported young people at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Youth Conference. Now, he’s striving to pass on his values of hard work and dedication to his two sons, Cam and Kolby, who are his main inspiration.

“My greatest achievement has always been being the father to two amazing sons,” he said. “They give me the strength to better myself and to never quit.”

Named after one of the most notable engineers in OPG’s history, the John Wesley Beaver Memorial Award was established in 1997 by OPG’s predecessor, Ontario Hydro, and is administered by OPG's Indigenous Circle, a networking group for Indigenous employees.

Beaver, who died in 1980, was a fighter pilot during the Second World War and served as Chief of Alderville First Nation in the early 1950s. He joined Ontario Hydro in 1949 as a junior engineer and quickly rose through the ranks over 23 years, eventually becoming the Operations Engineer for northeastern Ontario.

As part of the award, each recipient receives a limited edition silkscreen print of a work by Indigenous artist Rick Beaver, son of John Wesley Beaver.