Rain didn’t dampen annual graduation powwow celebrations
- NC Raine | June 02, 2018
Thousands of students, dancers, drummers, and community members gathered to attend the annual graduation powwow at the University of Saskatchewan. The celebration, on May 30th, honoured the academic achievements of Metis, First Nations and Inuit students from both the University of Saskatchewan and high schools across the province.
This year’s celebration, which takes over half a year of preparation, was forced to moved from the campus bowl to the Education gym due to rainy weather. Nevertheless, the packed gym was a testament to the university’s commitment to strengthening Indigenous culture.
“The University of Saskatchewan has dedicated itself to becoming a much more welcoming and supportive place for Metis, First Nations, and Inuit students,” Graeme Joseph, graduation powwow committee chair told Eagle Feather News.
“This is something that everybody should be celebrating,” he said. “These students aren’t just going to go back to their communities to take up leadership positions, they’re going to take up leadership positions right across the province. So, we encourage everyone to stand with us in celebrating these graduates.”
A total of 384 Indigenous students graduated from the U of S this summer, with 115 of those students participating in this year’s graduation powwow. In addition, the university graduates, almost 300 grade 12 grads from 18 different high schools across Saskatchewan took part in the celebration.
“It draws the University community together, as well as the external community, to celebrate and honour the accomplishments of these Indigenous graduates,” said Jacqueline Ottmann, vice-provost of Indigenous Engagement. “We know their accomplishments are ultimately accomplishments for all of us.”
The powwow also drew more than 2,100 children from 40 schools in Saskatchewan. The event is an important learning tool, and this year the powwow committee focused on having more of a Metis presence, said Joseph, which included a Metis jigging competition.
“This is something we want to do because a great number of students here at the University self identify as Metis. During September of last year, we had over 2,540 students identify as Aboriginal, and roughly 40% is Metis.”
Two of the university graduates celebrating their academic achievements were Dakota Sinclair and Kierra FineDay. Sinclair, a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, from Poundmaker Cree Nation, is the first person in her family to receive a degree. She has used the graduation powwow as a motivator even before starting her university career.
“I had come to the grad powwow before I came to the university and seeing all the grads and pride for them made me excited to attend the university,” said Sinclair. “Once accepted and starting university, this is one of the things I've looked forward to most.”
FineDay from the Sweetgrass First Nation is a Bachelor of Science student in Pharmacy. She said sharing and celebrating her culture is what makes the powwow such an important event.
“We’re a minority, even though we’re growing at the university. It’s always good to be proud of one another. There’s a lot of lateral violence and jealousy within the Indigenous community, so I think it’s important to celebrate each other’s achievements and hard work,” said Fineday.
“I went to the Aboriginal student centre my first year and that’s where I made a lot of my closest friends. Being able to share this experience, in a professional setting, with some of my dearest friends is really special to me.”