Acadia student honoured with Literacy Award

Debra Toney smiles while seated in a wheelchair in front of the KC Irving Centre entrance. Photo credit: Communications Nova Scotia.

Acadia University student Debra Toney is this year’s recipient of the Nova Scotia Council of the Federation Literacy Award in recognition of her strength, resilience, and dedication to improving her literacy.

“I’ve learned that patience and persistence are a virtue, and hard work does pay off. I am grateful for this nomination and overwhelmed by my teacher’s support. I am also grateful for the Valley Community Learning Association,” said Toney. “In the future, I aspire to study law in greater depth so I can continue to support my Indigenous community. In the next two years, I hope to finish my undergraduate degree – an achievement beyond my wildest dreams.”

Born with spina bifida, Ms. Toney never let her physical disabilities hinder her enjoyment of school. But she struggled academically and left school after Grade 10. Her determination drove her to return and successfully obtain her high school diploma. Years later, an assessment revealed she had a severe learning disability.

Despite many obstacles, Ms. Toney never gave up on her dreams of pursuing higher education.

Upon discovering the adult education programs at the Annapolis Valley First Nation Learning Centre in Kentville, she received the necessary supports, applied to Acadia University, and was admitted to the political science department in 2012.

While she continues to work towards her degree, Ms. Toney remains a force in her community, where she advocates for Indigenous education, treaties, and rights.

“Debra’s commitment to learning and her community, and her ability to overcome obstacles is truly inspiring,” said Premier Tim Houston. “I admire her tenacity as she continuously works to forge her path forward in both higher education and her community.”

The Nova Scotia Council of the Federation Literacy Award is presented annually to an adult learner who demonstrates outstanding achievements in literacy and makes a significant contribution to their school, workplace or community. Ms. Toney was nominated by the Annapolis Valley First Nation Learning Centre.

“Debra has faced her literacy and learning challenges with a commendable determination and a passion to succeed. I have never known a more committed student,” said Diana MacLean, director, Annapolis Valley First Nation Learning Centre . “Her persistence in the face of her obstacles is truly inspiring. As a role model for the youth in our community, she is an advocate for Indigenous rights, education, treaty recognition and has spearheaded numerous political actions to support her community and the Mi’kmaq people. Debra is very deserving of this prestigious award."

Quick Facts:

  • International Literacy Day is celebrated on Sept. 8, with the theme Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide
  • The Council of the Federation Literacy Award was established in 2004 and provides 13 awards annually, one for each province and territory
    Additional Resources:

To learn more about the Council of the Federation Literacy Award, visit:

For more information about Nova Scotia Adult Learning, visit:

Photo courtesy of Communications Nova Scotia.

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