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The Otsenhákta Student Centre celebrates First Nations, Inuit and Métis grads at Concordia

‘It brought so much joy to see each student supported by their kin and peers as they crossed this milestone’
June 27, 2023

A group of indigenous graduates pose for a photo wearing the related regalia

Concordia’s annual Indigenous graduation was, above all, a community-driven event. The celebration, hosted on June 2 by the Otsenhákta Student Centre, brought together First Nations, Inuit and Métis graduating students from across disciplines of the university, their friends and family, as well as members of the Concordia community. Guests shared a meal and highlighted the successes of the graduating students as well as the vital community support along the way.

“It brought so much joy seeing each student supported by their kin and peers as they crossed this milestone,” says graduating student Daphnée Cardinal. “It was clear that this celebration was really for us, the students present, and our families.”

Katsistohkwí:io Jacco opened the celebration with the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, or Thanksgiving Address, delivered in Kanien'kéha. Each student received a graduation stole, presented by Manon Tremblay, senior director of Indigenous Directions, to wear when crossing the stage at their faculty convocation. The stoles, worn over the shoulders, mark the special event and feature a feather graphic—-signifying high respect in Indigenous cultures—and Concordia’s logo.

Speeches delivered by graduating students were especially resonant, notes Allan Vicaire, interim manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and senior advisor for Indigenous Directions. Jason Sikoak (BFA, Art History and Studio Art) and Lauren Tsohahi:io Deom (MA, Applied Linguistics) reflected on their academic journeys, and friends and family also had the chance to offer words of congratulations.

“For some of us, as Indigenous people, we don’t necessarily see the university reflecting who we are,” Vicaire says. “But hearing from the students really made an impact. It’s more than their individual accomplishments. When one Indigenous person succeeds, their whole community comes with them, and they bring their experience back to the community.”

Concordia President Graham Carr offered his words of congratulations and encouragement to students at the celebration.  

“This graduation is also special, as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Student Centre we now call Otsenhákta,” Carr said. “I’m grateful for their dedication in welcoming and supporting our Indigenous students.”

Vicaire adds that it’s really an honour to be part of the students’ academic journey. “Watching them receive their stoles, as role models in their communities and for future students, that felt really rewarding.”

'Find your community in whatever you’re studying.'

A woman poses for a graduation photo.

Daphnée Cardinal

BA, Sociology
Anishinaabekwe, from Timiskaming

What motivated you to come to Concordia?

Daphnée Cardinal: I first started undergrad at a different university, where I didn’t feel like I belonged. During that time, I took a course at Concordia in First Peoples Studies, taught by Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf. At the time, it was mind-blowing how actual Indigenous methodologies were used. It was a class on First Peoples’ healing, which was so serendipitous, because I needed healing as well. That’s how I first decided to come to Concordia.

What were some highlights during your time at Concordia?

DC: In sociology, I took classes that were tailored for community engagement, that were much more hands on than my previous university experiences. In a class about food and sustainability, I worked with the mind.heart.mouth garden at Loyola Campus to build a food guide and recipes based on what was available through the garden.

It’s a different way of learning that resonated with land-based practices and Indigenous ways of learning, but not only in the context of a First Peoples Studies class.

What was the role of the Otsenhákta Student Centre during your time at Concordia?

DC: At Otsenhákta, I was able to make connections with students from different communities, find resources and learn about and participate in cultural activities together. It was also a safe space to debrief and unwind after frustrations and disappointments if I wasn’t feeling heard.

While I was studying, I also worked at Otsenhákta. It’s an amazing team, and it was great to build community along with people who have the same goals.

What are your next steps?

DC: Studying sociology gave me a strong base and vocabulary to understand why the world is the way it is. Now I want to focus more on art and creation to find solutions to better Indigenous people’s lives and well-being.

In the fall, I’ll be starting a fashion design program in CEGEP. I want to incorporate our traditional knowledge and focus on seasonal, cyclical creation. My goal is to build something in the community that can lead toward economic sovereignty.

Do you have any advice for Indigenous students who will be coming to Concordia?

DC: Go to the Otsenhákta Student Centre — that should be your first stop! Don’t feel ashamed to take the space you deserve. Sometimes change happens because one person said something and others agreed.

A man poses for a graduation photo.

Belle Ken’nikatsi’tsa:’a Phillips

BA, Major in Human Relations, Minor in First Peoples Studies
Kanien’kehà:ka, from Kahnawà:ke.

What motivated you to come to Concordia?

Belle Ken’nikatsi’tsa:’a Phillips: My program, Human Relations, is what drew me to Concordia. It’s very unique and included many opportunities for developing my soft skills, like leading workshops for example. 

What were some highlights during your time at Concordia?

BKP: I sat on the Indigenous Directions Leadership Council during my degree. As part of the leadership council, I had the opportunity to do the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen at different events at the university. It was special as I was able to share my culture.

Another highlight of participating in the leadership council was being part of the group that made the decision to change the name of the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre to the Otsenhákta Student Centre. 

What was the role of the Otsenhákta Student Centre during your time at Concordia?

BKP: The centre for me was a place for me to go after classes, hang out and spend time with friends. I was able to make a lot of friends there. Also, I knew if anything was going on for me, I could go to Otsenhákta and talk to someone. 

What are your next steps?

I’m currently working as a youth engagement counsellor in my community. I love it. In my role, I attend outreach in schools to engage with youth and share our services. I’m working with students who want to go to vocational schools, and we offer funding for their studies.

Eventually, I’m considering returning to school to do my master’s. In what, I’m not too sure yet.

Do you have any advice for Indigenous students who will be coming to Concordia?

BKP: First of all, find your community in whatever you’re studying. If you’re a Native student, come to the Otsenhákta Student Centre. And, of course, don’t give up!

Learn more about the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Concordia’s Indigenous Directions.

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