For the first time in the institution’s history, the University of Lethbridge is allowing Indigenous students to embrace their culture during convocation in a unique way.
Thursday marked a monumental day for students like Patricia Bruised Head, as she gets to showcase her culture by dressing in traditional regalia while walking across the stage.
“I feel like I’m wearing my regalia for the First Nations people who graduated before me who could not wear them, because I know there’s been so many that wanted to wear the regalia but couldn’t,” said Bruised Head, who is graduating with a degree in health sciences.
With more than 450 Indigenous people currently attending the University of Lethbridge, Bruised Head said she couldn’t be more proud for her people to be recognized by the post-secondary institution, and to attend the ceremony as a celebrated Indigenous woman.
“I’m proud to be a First Nations, Blackfoot woman,” Bruised Head said. “It’s a part of who we are, it’s a part of who I am.
“It just means so much to me, being able to do this — not only for myself but for my family and my community.”
Working towards inclusion, breaking down barriers and showing pride for their roots on traditional Blackfoot territory, faculty said this is a step in the right direction for the university.
“As we look more into Indigenizing our institution, recognizing reconciliation… and looking at making our campus more inclusive for Indigenous students, this is a big shift in that direction,” said Roy Pogorzalski, director of Indigenous student affairs.
The university also presented Indigenous graduates with specialized stoles — representing all Indigenous backgrounds — in a continued effort to break down barriers and show pride for its roots on traditional Blackfoot territory.
“It’s a momentous activity and recognition for Indigenous students,” said Charlene Bruised Head Mountain Horse.
“Here, on a national stage, a lot of our Indigenous students want to feel that welcome, like they belong.”
Although the change is being widely celebrated, with 2018 marking the 50th year of convocations at the university, some are saying it’s something that should have happened a long time ago.
“I’m happy to be one of the first ones to do this,” Bruised Head said, “but yes, it’s been a long time coming and possibly overdue.”
With 2018 marking the convocation of change for the University of Lethbridge, 66 students are donning the Indigenous stole at this year’s convocation.