USask confers about 400 degrees upon Indigenous graduates
- NC Raine | July 16, 2021
Celebrations may be temporarily distant but were no less personal for students at this year's Indigenous Graduation Celebration at the University of Saskatchewan.
“It's such a positive thing, to build each other up and celebrate each other. To be able to say, 'look how many of us are supporting each other and standing together in this circle of hope,'” said Candace Longjohn-Constant.
Longjohn-Constant, who is graduating with a Certificate in Indigenous Languages, is one of the roughly 400 Indigenous students graduating from Usask this academic year. The Indigenous Graduation Celebration, which took place in May, was held virtually to replace the annual Graduation Powwow.
“It's an important thing to celebrate because until recently, we weren't able to celebrate anything about being Indigenous. We were shunned for practicing our culture. Now, we're being celebrated, we're being encouraged to teach and practice our culture, and dance our style,” she said.
No stranger to celebrating and embracing her culture, the Sturgeon Lake First Nation member grew up in a family heavily involved with powwows. But as both her parents and grandparents attended Residential School, she was discouraged growing up from learning her language.
The Certificate in Indigenous Languages – a post-degree program from the College of Education – gave her an immersion in the Plains Cree language she had long been hungry to learn.
“I did this course to enhance my language acquisition skills, to be able to teach my kids and converse with my parents,” she said.
“My grandparents (because of impacts from Residential School), forbade my parents from teaching us their language. To rebel against that has been a life-long dream. To fight against the system, in a sense.”
The virtual celebration delivered messages of resilience, pride, and empowerment by individuals like Elder Marjorie Beaucage, Elder Roland Duquette, Usask President Peter Stoicheff, Provost and VP Academic Dr. Airini, Elder Maria Campbell, Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement Jacqueline Ottmann, and lawyer Helen Semaganis.
“We have never had a group of graduating students like the class of 2021. Completing your programs amidst the challenges of the pandemic required more dedication and determination than ever before,” said Stoicheff. “Indigenous students are essential to the success of the University of Saskatchewan, making important contributions in every college and every school on campus.”
Ian Worme, member of Kawacatoose First Nation, graduating with a Masters in Public Administration, reflected on both the historical and personal significance of his accomplishment.
“It's wasn't until the last 40 or 50 years that you saw Indigenous people becoming educated with a post-secondary degree or post-graduate degree or PhD. So this day is representative of how far we've come,” he said.
Worme is the second generation in his family to receive an education at Usask. His father received a Bachelor's Degree in Geology.
“It is not an easy challenge for Indigenous people to get this far. It shows the strength and perseverance of our people, of overcoming certain challenges,” said Worme.
“So this for me is an extension of what my father was able to accomplish.”