‘Show the world that you’re not going to give up’
Concordia’s Aboriginal Student Resource Centre (ASRC) hosted a special gathering on June 2 to celebrate and honour the accomplishments of 29 First Nations, Inuit and Métis graduates from across Canada.
Chantel Henderson, who completed her Graduate diploma in Community Economic Development, delivered an impassioned speech, recounting her struggle to escape the cycle of poverty in her community and pursue her post-secondary education.
“I’m the first of my family to finish high school, go to college, get my BA. It’s a lot of firsts,” she said. “But it’s also a lot of pride … Where I grew up, all you see is drugs, alcohol, poverty, child welfare and prostitution. I was one of the fortunate to make it out of the ghetto of Winnipeg’s North End.”
Henderson came to Montreal alone and had no support network. She was grateful to connect with the ASRC, which she called her home away from home. “There were other students I could connect with who were pursuing higher education and who were struggling the same as me,” she said.
Henderson faced many personal challenges as she pursued her degree. She recalled turning her pain and frustration into productive energy, throwing herself into causes — in particular Missing Justice, a grassroots organization run out of the Centre for Gender Advocacy that works to raise awareness about violence and discrimination against indigenous women in Quebec.
“I chose Concordia because it’s very socially active here … I was able to use my experiences in a constructive manner, to fight for awareness and fight for women who are in my position and help them get through those obstacles.
“I’m living proof that you can get through it, you’ve just got to find the right resources, find that determination to keep on going, to show the world that you’re not going to give up, that you’re not going to be another statistic that didn’t finish.”
Andrew Woodall, Concordia’s dean of Students, and Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost, also addressed the graduates, families and guests.
“This is one of my favourite events in the academic year because it gives us an opportunity to recognize our graduates, and to thank all those that contributed to their success,” Ostiguy said.
“There is so much behind-the-scenes support that happens on the journey to completing a degree. I want to formally acknowledge the support of our families, friends, guests, and I would also like to thank (ASRC coordinator) Nadine Montour and her team.”
During her address, student speaker Mikayla Cartwright, who graduated with an MA in the Individualized program, also thanked the ASRC for its support during her time at Concordia.
“It was there for me in so many ways: when I got pregnant halfway through my bachelor’s degree, and when I needed a place to distance myself from the university party culture,” she said after the ceremony. “The ASRC helped me take root in the Montreal urban Aboriginal community. I have obtained jobs that have given me the greatest experience through the network provided.”
Each of the graduates received stoles, designed by Kahnawake artist Tammy Beauvais, that featured a feather — a symbol of strength, wisdom and honour — alongside the university logo.
Concordia's president, Alan Shepard, greeted the graduates following the event.
Find out more about Concordia’s Aboriginal Student Resource Centre.