It was a first that Carleton Aboriginal students hope becomes an annual tradition.
The inaugural Aboriginal Post-Secondary Achievement ceremony was held at the Museum of Civilization in March, bringing together dozens of Aboriginal students from Carleton, University of Ottawa, Algonquin College, Gatineau’s CEGEP Heritage College, Toronto’s Humber College and Sudbury’s Laurentian University. There were even students from Australia’s Charles Sturt University who were in Ottawa and attended.
This ceremony, considered a graduation event, was made possible due to hard work by Carleton graduates Del Jacko (BA English) and Alexandra McGregor (B.Sc). And they hope that it becomes an annual event.
“Witnessing other Aboriginal people who have dedicated themselves to earning a university degree made me feel that a ceremony honouring our achievements would be a wonderful way to show our appreciation for the examples being set,” says Jacko, who grew up on the Kitigan Zibi reserve, near Maniwaki, Que.
Jacko wanted to organize such a ceremony for two years but found it difficult juggling being a single mother, part-time student and working two part-time jobs. Instead, she created a group on the social networking system, Facebook, to raise awareness about organizing an achievement ceremony and as a way to garner support for it within Ottawa’s Aboriginal community.
In a twist of fate, her cousin Alexandra McGregor, contacted Jacko about her Facebook group. McGregor had been hired by the University of Ottawa to host Aboriginal events in the capital region and she had the funds to make the ceremony a reality.
With only a few weeks to organize, time was tight.
The Grand Hall at the Museum of Civilization was chosen as the venue to reflect the rich heritage and history of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Within a few weeks, 46 graduates from local universities and colleges registered to be part of the ceremony and offered to volunteer.
The event was kicked off with a smudging ceremony and an opening prayer in English, French and Algonquin. Graduates received eagle feathers as symbols they are true leaders in their communities and in their hearts.
Guests were also treated to Inuit throat singing, the Métis “Jig on the Fly” dance troupe and drumming as part of the entertainment.
Carleton student Gail Toups, who graduated with BA in Social Work, notes that the event was an important milestone because it highlighted the achievements of Aboriginal students.
“It was so wonderful to graduate in a place that honoured Aboriginal ways of knowing, its people, its history, its struggles and the elders,” she says.
“I don’t take my degree lightly — Carleton has really done so much to help me pursue a dream denied to my ancestors and has given me an opportunity to learn about the world’s people while learning from within.”