New Dalhousie convocation staff recognizes diverse cultures, ethnic groups

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New Dalhousie University convocation staff recognizes diverse cultures, ethnic groups
WATCH: A Halifax university is one of the first in North America to recreate a traditional ceremonial object to represent diverse cultural and ethnic range of students. – May 14, 2019

Thousands of students from different cultures and backgrounds walk across the stage during Dalhousie University’s 21 convocations every spring.

The New Dawn Staff is the new ceremonial object that will be used to lead graduates into their convocation. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

While the rich diversity of students is celebrated by friends and family who honour their achievements on their special day, a key part of the ceremonies was flagged as not being representative of the students to whom it’s supposed to pay tribute.

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“It was brought to Dalhousie’s attention that the current mace that they used in graduation had only symbols of basically the British and the French and dominant cultures and nothing recognizing marginalized peoples that had been overlooked,” said Mark Austin, a Nova Scotia artist.

“So, African Nova Scotians, new immigrants, people with various gender identities and especially Mi’kmaq.”

Wendie Poitras is an African Nova Scotian artist and educator who contributed adinkra symbols to the New Dawn Staff as a way to connect the community to their African ancestry. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Austin was one of several artists who helped design and create a new University Staff, called the New Dawn Staff, that will be used during convocations.

The artistic creation was made with collaboration from a diverse range of artists representing different communities from African Nova Scotians, to Mi’kmaq and new immigrants.

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“I think what this creates is a sense of awareness,” said Wendie Poitras, an African Nova Scotian artist and educator.

“So now people are aware of how we can redesign our objects, how we can redesign symbols, how structures can be redesigned into something that looks very different and is also inclusive.”

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The New Dawn Staff includes several adinkra symbols contributed by Poitras.

“Adinkra symbols are these ancient symbols out of West African, Ghana and some other countries along the west coast, and because African Nova Scotians came to this province in a very different manner than some of the other settlers, we wanted to be able to honour our ancestry and also acknowledge where we come from as a people,” she said.

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Alan Syliboy is a Mi’kmaq artist out of Millbrook First Nation.

He feels the new staff provides an opportunity for all students to feel like their heritage and culture are being honoured during their graduation ceremony.

“This will be a very important symbol as time goes on, because there’s been a lot of time that people haven’t seen themselves in it, but this is a beginning of where they will,” he said.

The New Dawn Staff is now the official ceremony object used to open and close all Dalhousie University convocations.

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