‘You don’t need to be the chief to make change’
Proud parents, elders, siblings, professors, mentors — June 3 saw a full house come out to the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre’s (ASRC) special gathering at the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building) to celebrate the success of 16 Aboriginal graduates.
“I’m standing here against all odds,” said student Cheryl Lahache, who graduated this spring with a BA in Human Relations and a minor in First Peoples Studies. “University changed all of our lives. It opened up my mind."
Lahache was addressing an audience of approximately 65 people, among them Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost; Andrew Woodall, Concordia’s dean of students; Morning Star, the ASRC’s elder-in-residence; Karl Hele, chair and program director of First Peoples Studies; Catherine Bolton, the university’s vice-provost of Teaching and Learning, and Bradley Tucker, associate vice-president of Registrarial Services and university registrar.
“We feel privileged that you chose Concordia as your university,” Ostiguy announced from the podium. “As graduates, you are important ambassadors for Concordia. Sharing your experience will help us increase opportunities for other Aboriginal students.”
The 16 graduates represent many Aboriginal nations, including Métis, Mohawk, Algonquin and Ojibway. Their academic concentrations range from religion and theatre to translation and engineering. Without exception, the graduates all credited the ASRC for easing their transition to university life in Montreal.
“I couldn’t have made it this far, or done so well, without the Centre,” said Sigwan Thivierge, who graduated with a BA in Linguistics last fall and is currently in the MA program. Thivierge’s hometown, Winneway, Quebec, is seven hours north of Montreal, so the adjustment to urban life was considerable.
Enter the ASRC, located on the sixth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building (H). As part of Student Services, the ASRC is dedicated to helping Aboriginal students succeed, providing a community space, a computer lab, a comfortable lounge, guest speakers, beadwork sessions, outings around Montreal and a welcoming place to eat lunch.
“It really helps to be connected to other people who are constantly trying to understand what it means to be indigenous,” said Megan Whyte, who graduated with a BFA in Art Education with a minor in Psychology. “It makes you feel like you’re not so alone.” Whyte starts the MA program in Art Therapy this fall.
Karl Hele was pleased to note that there were several graduates in attendance with minors and majors in First Peoples Studies, a program that was only launched two years ago. “The First Peoples Studies program is designed so students can acquire the skills one needs to move forward — and we’re clearly doing that,” said Hele, whose department is hosting the Canadian Indigenous/Native Studies Association conference starting June 11. “I appreciate this graduation ceremony in addition to convocation because it’s more intimate and I get to meet the families and the community, which is what First Nations are all about.”
Morning Star presented graduates with a maroon and gold commemorative stole adorned with the symbol of the feather — symbolizing strength, wisdom and honour — as well as the Concordia logo.
The event’s keynote speaker was Kenneth Deer, who, among other credits, was a driving force behind the founding of the Kahnawake Survival School. Deer received an honorary doctorate during the June 8 convocation ceremony for the Faculty of Arts and Science.
“Either make change by evolution or revolution,” he told the graduating Aboriginal students.
“You don’t need to be the big chief to make change. Find out your role in creation and you’ll find peace and contentment.”
Find out more about Aboriginal student services.