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UofT student marks history as the first female First Nations Rhodes Scholar

Iakoiehwáhtha Patton is joining the select club of Rhodes Scholars, and the even fewer Indigenous academics to receive the prestigious scholarship—but her path is uniquely her own.

“I’m still taking it all in, it still feels very surreal,” the University of Toronto student told CTV News.

Patton, who goes by Iako, moved to Toronto to study art history. The first thing she did on Saturday when she got the news was call her mom in Kahnawake, the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community outside Montreal.

“My phone rang and I ran outside and she was crying and screaming and she was saying ‘I’m a Rhodes scholar!’ And I was like, oh my god,” Andrea Clair Meloche said. “We couldn't talk, neither of us could speak.”

The call came at the last minute: Patton’s final interview was Saturday, and she was told she would be notified of the selection committee’s decision that night between 5 and 8p.m. The call came at 7:45pm.

Patton says her parents and grandparents instilled in her the importance of education, and made it a priority.

“I was expecting a lot out of her, but she - she overshot,” said her father James Patton, with a smile.

Few Indigenous scholars have been selected for the Rhodes Scholarship. A Metis woman and two Indigenous men have been selected in recent years, but Patton says she believes she would be the first First Nations woman from Canada to join the Rhodes ranks.

As a student of history and an Indigenous woman, Patton says the historical baggage part of the Rhodes Scholarship legacy isn’t lost on her—its namesake, Cecil Rhodes, colonized Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Patton says it makes her selection and the doors it opens all the more significant.

“It's more than just me, it's more than just a responsibility to myself, but a responsibility I have to my community,” she said. It's a responsibility that I hold for other indigenous scholars and to carve that space.”

Patton, whose biography reports she likes to deadlift and re-read The Hobbit when she isn’t challenging academia, is letting the future after Oxford be an open canvas. All she knows is she wants to pursue her Ph.D.

“Every professor […] every person I have talked to about the Rhodes Scholarship has told me that this opportunity opens doors to things that I can't even imagine,” she said.

As someone who knows a lot about art, she can imagine quite a bit—and achieve even more. Top Stories

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