St. Mary’s University 2018 Indigenous Graduation Ceremony marks important step in cultural journey

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On Wednesday, May 9, 2018 a special Indigenous Graduation Ceremony was held on the St. Mary’s University campus to honour Indigenous graduands with their families in attendance in a traditional, Indigenous ceremony before the formal convocation on May 11.

Under the guidance of St. Mary’s Elder, Casey Eagle Speaker and the Indigenous Advisory Council, this ceremony celebrated the academic and spiritual accomplishments of Danielle Marie Alexander, Shelbe Glidden, Larkin Lee Joevenazzo, Arthur (J.C.) Schmidt, Charity Candace Tegler and Danielle Sheryl Dykema.

For Michelle Scott, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at St. Mary’s University, the Indigenous Graduation Ceremony is a way to honour the Indigenous students in a more informal ceremony and celebrate the students’ heritage and culture.

Self-identifying First Nations graduands are presented with an Eagle feather at the ceremony, and Métis students with a sash, and for Michelle this is significant because most of the students who partake in the celebration have begun their cultural recognition journey while at St. Mary’s.

“A lot of the students who come to St. Mary’s don’t know a lot about their own, haven’t lived their heritage or haven’t lived into their culture, so a lot of learning about their culture has happened here on campus,” said Scott. “I think it’s really honouring and humbling to be a part of their journey for their own place of belonging as an Indigenous person in the world.”

The special occasion was also marked by a special addition to the ceremony as the St. Mary’s Honour Song, as performed by the Sorrel Rider Singers, was performed for the graduates. The honour song, composed by Frank Turning Robe, was given to St. Mary’s University in June of 2017 during the Tipi Raising Ceremony on the St. Mary’s campus.

In the spirit of reconciliation and action, the Honour Song will also be sung at the official St. Mary’s convocation on Friday, May 11.

“This is a way for us to be honouring of Indigenous protocols, history and voices that were silenced historically,” said Scott. “We’ve built our place in community where we say that reconciliation is important to us, so by welcoming and celebrating that we’ve been gifted with an honour song means that it is a safe place for Indigenous students to come.”