Jessie Hemphill, who grew up in Port Hardy, has earned the prestigious Governor General’s Gold Award at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Convocation ceremony in Nanaimo.
The Governor General’s Gold Award is one of the highest academic awards in Canada given to students who have the highest average at their university programs.
Hemphill earned the award for having the highest grades at VIU in her two-year masters’ program in community planning.
“It was very exciting and validating – it was a complete surprise to me so when they called my name at the convocation ceremony I was totally overwhelmed and thrilled,” said Hemphill of her experience at the June 4 convocation ceremony.
Hemphill is a member of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations (GNN) and she began her education at GNN Elementary School, before graduating with distinction from Port Hardy Secondary School.
She also served two terms on Port Hardy council before moving to Nanaimo to complete her masters’ degree.
“Ask any grad and they’ll tell you that getting good marks is tough enough, and while taking classes, Jessie was also building a consultation business from the ground up,” said her father, Bob Hemphill, adding that she was routinely flying to remote regions throughout Canada “to help indigenous communities develop community plans and facilitate at numerous high-level conferences for regional, provincial, and federal bodies.”
Hemphill runs a consulting company called Alderhill Planning Inc., which provides culturally-based planning processes that reclaim planning as a community building tool to strengthen Indigenous peoples and cultures.
“I am excited to continue growing my company, working as a planner, and eventually I would like to pursue a PhD,” said Hemphill of her future plans.
“I feel really proud of being able to accomplish this level of academic success while working for myself and running my own company,” she said, adding, “I hope other folks and Indigenous women, in particular, know they can make a living while absolutely killing it in school at the same time.”
Hemphill said she was really happy to be able to wear a traditional Kwakwaka’wakw headpiece made by her sister during the convocation ceremony.
“Certainly growing up in GNN, I have had a phenomenal support network and that has played a huge role in being able to accomplish what I have accomplished,” she said. “I hope that my success has paved the way for other Indigenous women to chase their dreams and feel really confident in their ability to go out in the world.”
This year Hemphill was also the recipient of the Canadian Institute of Planners Presidents Award for Young Planners, which recognizes the outstanding professional success and achievement of a young Canadian planner under the age of 35.
“It was exciting as well, so it’s been a big year for me,” said Hemphill.
Hemphill also co-founded the British Columbia Comprehensive Community Planning Mentorship Program and serves on the board of directors for the ‘Kawatsi Economic Development Corporation.
She is a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners’ Indigenous Community Planning Committee, and the Indigenous Advisory Group for the Indigenous Community Development National Strategy.