Lone Inuit graduate’s culture a highlight at annual SIMFC celebration
- NC Raine | August 07, 2019
Every year, First Nation, Metis and Inuit graduates from Saskatoon and surrounding area have the opportunity to share their culture and academic successes at the annual Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre (SIMFC) graduation.
Now in its 35th year, the event that once started in a school gym with a handful of Indigenous students is now a major event at TCU Place, with over 200 graduates attending this year's ceremony.
“A lot of students won't get the chance to have a banquet marking this major milestone in their life, so I think its really important,” said SIMFC graduation co-ordinator Terry Gossen.
“To see within their own Indigenous communities how many people are graduating – getting together as a big group with a lot of representation from their community – it's empowering,” said Gossen.
The graduation included several cultural traditions, said Gossen, including a ceremonial smudge, and the students themselves performing dance and music.
One graduate in particular was a standout – Emily McKay Hikwa, a high-school graduate from Marion Graham Collegiate in Saskatoon, as the only Inuit student at this year's celebration.
McKay Hikwa said she was initially hesitant, knowing she'd likely be the only Inuit person at the SIMFC graduation. But she was encouraged to go, she said, by her mother who was also the only Inuit person at the SIMFC graduation 35 years ago.
“It really meant a lot to me to be there. It meant a lot to my friends and my family as well, it's just a big stepping stone for all of us,” McKay Hikwa told Eagle Feather News. “I was scared at first, being the only Inuit person. But my mom told me that 35 years ago, she was also the only Inuit person.”
McKay Hikwa and her family took the opportunity to embrace and share their culture, handing out Nunavut flags to others at the graduation, as well as sharing some her grandfather's carvings and Inuit jackets. McKay Hikwa also did a solo dance at the graduation, and her mother shared a speech about Inuit people.
Being an Inuit person in Saskatoon, McKay Hikwa said she is no stranger to feeling a little different. But different is good, she says.
“Growing up, I've always been surrounded by Cree and Metis people and culture. With my Inuit culture, we fit in with some of the traditions, but I've always felt like we've been classified as a different type of Indigenous,” she said.
“So it was really important to me to share my culture at the graduation. I've always loved my culture.”