[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbri59UegTw[/youtube]


By: Michelle Ferguson


Classes have just started and some students are already looking forward to the end of the school year. But not for the reasons you may think.

On Sept. 21, Carleton, in partnership with Algonquin College, Cégep Héritage and the Cree School board, held the Third Annual Kikinàmàgan (Student) Pow-wow in the Norm Fenn gym at Carleton University.

The gathering was an opportunity for the community to welcome new and returning students, and for those attending the different Ottawa-Gatineau post-secondary institutions to get to know each other.

But it was also a way to collect funds for the Annual Aboriginal Graduate Honouring Ceremony that has been held at the end of April for the past five years.

This special ceremony is held by the Ottawa aboriginal community to recognize First Nation, Inuit and Métis students who have completed their degrees or certificates. Any aboriginal graduate from the Ottawa area can attend, in addition to the regular convocation held by their respective institutions.

“The idea behind it is to honour our students because they’re our leaders,” said Naomi Sarazin, aboriginal cultural liaison officer at the Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE) at Carleton University.

“We wanted the community to be part of that and to be able to acknowledge them as role models and leaders and to celebrate their successes,” she said.

Although the Ottawa schools organize the event, students who studied outside the region are also welcome to participate.

“If they are from here and they want to be part of the honouring ceremony they can be part of it,” said Irvin Hill, who also works as an aboriginal culture liaison officer at CACE.

The ceremony is different from a regular convocation in that it is more personal and that it respects certain cultural traditions.

“It’s just them on showcase really,” said Tony Mendes, aboriginal students success specialist at Algonquin’s Mamidosewin Centre. “Because it’s them on stage by themselves for a few moments, they really get to celebrate the hour, instead of just being a number and walking by.”

Attendees agreed.

“It was really empowering,” said Cassondra Barnaby, who attended the 2013 ceremony after receiving her certificate in aboriginal studies from Algonquin College. “A lot of our elders and teachers were there to support us in taking that next step to pursue a higher education.”

The honouring ceremony also serves to inspire students, said Mendes. Not only is an elder present to oversee the ceremony and give their blessing, but speakers are brought in from the different First Nations to speak about the impact students can have on their communities. Students can also invite an unlimited amount of family to the event.

“I did both the convocation and the honouring ceremony and they were both really important to me in different ways,” said Mallory Whiteduck, who graduated from Carleton in 2010 and now works for CACE. “I wanted to obviously be recognized by Carleton for graduating and it was equally important for me to be recognized by the aboriginal community in Ottawa for that accomplishment.”

So why hold a pow-wow as a way to fund the ceremony?

“(Pow-wows are) something that (have) been happening for hundreds and hundreds of years in North America and a lot of people only see this,” said Hill. “This is all they see. They don’t see aboriginal people going to school. They don’t see aboriginal people in higher education.”

Bringing a pow-wow to an institution such as Carleton shows the wider community that a lot of aboriginals from all over the country do choose higher education and that a lot of them have graduated and are now making a difference in their communities, he explained.

As soon as the smudging smoke clears up from the gym, CACE, the Mamidosewin Centre and the other aboriginal centres will start planning for the honouring ceremony.

Who knows, Algonquin may even hold a fundraising pow-wow of their own.


Click here for more information and video coverage of the event.