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PhD student challenges Aboriginal stereotypes

[Russell Evans PhD student]Russell Evans is completing his PhD in Behavioural Accounting under the supervision of Dr. Teri Shearer.

Growing up on the Matachewan First Nation in northern Ontario, Russell Evans felt somewhat ashamed of his identity. Negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people made him feel inferior, but his outlook slowly started to change when he went to university in 1997.

“I saw there were other Aboriginal students who were just as smart and educated as any other person. I started developing more pride in my background and heritage, which has continued building over the years,” says Mr. Evans. “Because of my personal experience, I want to be a strong proponent for Aboriginal rights and development in Canada.”

The desire to make a difference eventually led Mr. Evans to Queen’s School of Business for graduate studies in 2009. Before that, he studied electrical engineering technology at college for three years, completed his undergraduate degree, worked in the oil sands industry in Alberta followed by a stint at Stelco, and earned his MBA.

With his master’s degree complete, Mr. Evans is now working on his PhD in Behavioural Accounting under the supervision of Dr. Teri Shearer. Mr. Evans’ research proposal, which he is currently writing, will focus on accountability and governance on First Nations reserves in Canada.

“As Aboriginal people strive for more independence and greater self-governance, chiefs and councillors are under pressure to be accountable to the community and not just the Government of Canada,” he explains. “I want to understand how chiefs and councillors are reconciling this shift in their governance models and management accounting methods.”

Mr. Evans intends to interview chiefs and band councillors during his research. He will travel to several reserves across Canada, some in remote locations, thanks to the support he has received from the RBC Aboriginal Student Award and the KPMG Aboriginal Scholar Program.

The research will take Mr. Evans back to his reserve in northern Ontario, where he grew up as the thirteenth of 14 siblings. The first child in his family to attend university, Mr. Evans hopes more young Aboriginal people from his community follow in his footsteps.

“We have a great opportunity to pursue post-secondary education because of our reserve’s education fund, but it’s never used up each year because not enough people are going to school,” he says. “The fund definitely helped me get multiple degrees and diplomas, but I would rather more people get some post-secondary education than a few people get a lot of education.”

In addition to his research, Mr. Evans is teaching an undergraduate management class this term. He is settling into the new role and enjoying the experience after a nerve-wracking first class. He commutes from Toronto, where he is active in the Aboriginal Professionals Association of Canada (APAC).

“I really like that they are showcasing Aboriginal professionals and giving them a higher profile. There are still negative perceptions of Aboriginal people in Canada and I want to work with organizations that push the other side of things.”

Mr. Evans is interested in pursuing an academic career once he completes his PhD. He also wants to gain practical accounting experience and achieve an accounting designation, in the hopes of doing consulting work with reserves to improve their financial accountability and governance practices.