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‘I’m excited to build upon my experiences at Concordia’

Online Indigenous graduation celebration honours the accomplishments of 30 First Nations, Inuit and Métis students
June 17, 2020
By Candice Pye

Painting by Christelle Atewasare Deer Bourdon, Kanien'kehà:ka (Mohawk) of Kahnawà:ke Painting by Christelle Atewasare Deer Bourdon, Kanien'kehà:ka (Mohawk) of Kahnawà:ke

Concordia and the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre (ASRC) are recognizing 30 First Nations, Inuit and Métis graduates in a virtual Indigenous Graduation Celebration today.

The digital celebration — organized by the ASRC — is being held in lieu of their usual annual in-person graduation gathering.

Vicky Boldo, the ASRC’s in-house cultural support and Elder-in-Residence, says the virtual graduation will celebrate Concordia Indigenous students who have “demonstrated academic excellence, perseverance despite obstacles, the strength to make sacrifices, dedication to hard work and pride in their community.”

Alongside the webpage featuring the students’ thoughts, art and poetry, the celebration includes a video montage featuring university and the ASRC staff paying tribute to the 2020 graduates.

The highlighted group spotlights 30 Indigenous students who earned BAs, BComms, BFAs, an MA, an MEng and a PhD. Their varied programs include First Peoples Studies; Anthropology; Community, Public Affairs and Policy Studies; Economics; English and Creative Writing; Human Environment; Human Relations; Political Science; Psychology; Women’s Studies; Accountancy; Finance; Art Education; Computation Arts; Film Animation; Painting and Drawing; Studio Art; Media Studies; and Civil Engineering.

The 30 graduates come from various nations and territories. Fourteen are Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk), including 10 students from Kahnawà:ke, two from Kanehsatà:kethe, one from Six Nations of the Grand River and one from Tyendinaga.

The 2020 group also includes individuals who are Inuk, Cree, Plains Cree, Ojibwe, Plains Ojibwe, Métis, Blackfoot, Huron-Wendat, Sioux, Wôpanâak, Heiltsuk and Maleku (Malécu). Some come from far-off lands and territories such as Costa Rica, Nunavik, Bella Bella, Fort William First Nation, Moosomin First Nation, Eastmain, Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory, Waskaganish, Watson Lake and Moosomin First Nation.

The usual in-person graduation entails an afternoon ceremony organized by the ASRC that precedes convocation in early June. Boldo says this get-together typically serves as a time for the Indigenous graduates to enjoy a more intimate celebration with their families, friends, peers and Elders, Concordia’s president, provost, faculty  and other staff, and — on occasion —diplomats or local community representatives.

“Students are given the opportunity to share some words after being acknowledged for their accomplishments and receiving their custom-made stoles,” says Boldo. “The stoles can then be worn at the formal university convocation.”

She adds that local Kanien’kehá:ka designer Tammy Beauvais of Kahnawà:ke has created the stoles for at least the past five years.

The gathering usually features guest speakers, alumni or local Indigenous celebrities, as well as performances by Indigenous students from the ASRC and larger community, such as last year’s inclusion of traditional men’s drum and student drummers. She also says that the event is normally catered by local Indigenous supplies when possible.

“In Indigenous cultures, where there is gathering, there is always food,” says Boldo. “We were saddened to not be able to have the event in this way this year due to Covid-19.”

To replace the in-person event this year, Boldo says the ASRC staff and Concordia’s University Communication Services worked hard to put together a landing page that will recognize the accomplishments of this year’s graduates on June 17.

Students were asked to submit photos, personal information, a statement and any art or creation they wanted to share — all of which will be featured online.

“We look forward to being able to come together with the graduates and their families when it will be safe to do so,” says Boldo.

Since joining the ASRC in 2017, Boldo says she has witnessed a great deal of growth in the students — particularly those who frequent the ASRC regularly.

“These institutions are not always easy places to navigate for Indigenous peoples and I am incredibly proud of the graduates, as it takes perseverance, determination and resiliency to arrive at this point in their academic journey,” says Boldo.

“This year has been extremely challenging, and I hope they all have an opportunity to celebrate, regardless, with their friends and family.”

Meet two of the featured graduates

Brandon Montour

Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk) of Kahnawà:ke
BA, major in Political Science with Great Distinction

What were some of the highlights from your time at Concordia?

Brandon Montour: “One of my greatest highlights is being a member of the Garnet Key Society, Concordia’s official honour society. As a member, I volunteered extensively at events across campus and organized a number of events that benefitted the Montreal community, including a benefit concert for the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.”

How does it feel to be graduating?

BM: “It feels great to finally have obtained my bachelor’s degree. I’m excited to build upon my experiences at Concordia and use this knowledge in the real world.”

How has the ASRC played a role in your life at Concordia?

BM: “The ASRC has been tremendously supportive to all Indigenous students. I truly felt at home while on campus and this is something that I will miss.”

What’s next for you after graduation?

BM: “In September, I will be attending McGill Faculty of Law, where I will be pursuing my Bachelor of Civil Law and Juris Doctor — BCL/JD. In the future, I plan on combining my expertise in political science and law in order to advocate for change for all Indigenous peoples across Canada.

My goal is to pursue a career in politics at the national level in order to address the challenges that we continue to face as First Nations peoples.”

Emma Kahente Ouimet

Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk) of Kahnawà:ke
BA, major in First People Studies, minor in Law and Society

What were some of the highlights from your time at Concordia?

Emma Kahente Ouimet: “Some of the highlights at Concordia were definitely spending time with my friends at the Aboriginal Resource Centre. All the time we would share stories, laugh, vent, make art, and eat soup and bannock together. They’re all talented wonderful people.

I also really enjoyed learning Anishinaabe and Inuktitut in my courses. It’s nice to see Indigenous languages being available to learn at the university level.

Another highlight was helping organize First Voices Week and being able to organize events for all students.”

How does it feel to be graduating?

EKO: “It feels bittersweet and exciting. Since kindergarten, I have never taken a break from my studies, and now that I am a graduate, I feel free, yet out of my usual yearly routine. No more taking the bus or metro daily, which seems surreal.

I’ll take this time to myself, to work and travel, and maybe one day I’ll return to the student life.”

How has the ASRC played a role in your life at Concordia?

EKO: “The ASRC has played a major role in my Concordia life because it offers so much help and guidance. Whenever I needed assistance with my assignments or anything, really, someone always knew how to support me.

The staff and students are also very welcoming and accepting of everyone. All my friends at the ASRC made me feel comfortable, as if I were at home.

Thank you to all my friends and all the staff at the ASRC who made my time at Concordia easier. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

What’s next for you after graduation?

EKO: “For now, my goal is to work, travel and, in the near future, learn my Indigenous language. After that, maybe I’ll make a comeback and get a master’s degree.

In the future, I’d like to work closely with Indigenous communities. My dream is to create a new curriculum for elementary and high school students to learn a bit about all the Indigenous nations in Canada because it is an important part of Canadian history that should not continue to be left out.”

Meet more of this year's First Nations, Inuit and Métis graduates — visit Concordia’s Indigenous Graduation Celebration website.



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