Students representing 11 First Nation communities across Canada were honoured at the 6th annual Indigenous Graduation Gathering on Thursday afternoon.
Thirty-one Indigenous students, alongside family and friends, got to celebrate their Concordia University graduation ahead of their 2018 classmates.
“This is a way for us to celebrate with our students and pay tribute to all the hardships and success that they have,” Orenda Boucher-Curotte, Aboriginal Student Resource Centre co-ordinator said.
“It gives us a chance to spend time with their families and to look at these students as future leaders in their community.”
Many of the students will be graduating from the faculty of arts while several others are in business, fine arts and science.
Students did not receive their diplomas but instead were bestowed a red and gold stole which features a white feather.
Concordia University’s official convocation ceremony will be held on June 10 to 13 where Indigenous students will be able to sport the new ceremonial stole.
Commerce graduate Kiesah Goodleaf admits it wasn’t easy. “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of stress,” Goodleaf said.
Boucher-Curotte, an Indigenous Concordia alumni herself, says Indigenous students like Goodleaf face a unique set of challenges.
“They come from a community of 400 to 45,000 — it’s a big difference,” Boucher-Curotte said.
Cultural differences and issues in the classroom where students encounter racism is still an ongoing issue, Boucher-Curotte said.
But the tides are shifting, however, with more and more Indigenous students pursuing secondary education.
Boucher-Curotte is noticing an increase every single year, with more and more graduates coming out.
“More people are finding education more accessible. More people are getting the prerequisites done and are going to CEGEP, making it a lot easier for them to obtain a university degree,” Boucher-Curotte said.
Students say a sense of community is growing within the hallways of the institutions with the help of programs like the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre.
“I think one person that is graduating today I had a class with, and the rest of the people I have never had a class with them, but we have been tremendously close for the past few years outside the classroom,” Brooke Wahsontiiostha Deer said.
Students like Goodleaf see a successful future persuing further post-secondary education,
“It was an awesome journey and I learned so much. Before, I never considered going further than a bachelor’s but now I’m considering doing my master’s.”