'It's kind of surreal': Indigenous graduates celebrate milestone in Yellowknife
Sir John Franklin High School honour ceremony featured feeding the fire, drumming and qulliq lighting
Laila Noksana and her grandmother Anita Pokiak wore matching traditional Inuit dresses Saturday as Noksana prepared to walk across the podium at the 15th Indigenous graduates honour ceremony in Yellowknife.
"I'm wearing my great-grandmother's parka cover," Noksana said before the ceremony at Sir John Franklin High School. "It's really important to me because she had just turned 100 years old."
Noksana was one of 18 Indigenous students from the high school honoured on Saturday.
"My grandpa only made it to Grade 8 in schooling, so I think it's just really nice that I've come this far. I'm really grateful," Noksana said.
"I'm very, very proud," Pokiak said of her oldest grandchild.
The annual ceremony began when three local women wanted to celebrate Indigenous graduates "in a time where statistics were showing a high rate of drop outs in the Indigenous community," Evelyne Straker, the event co-ordinator, said in an email.
Straker said Sir John Franklin school decided to continue running the honour ceremony last year, after the final member of the original committee stepped down.
I want to travel, I want to make a difference, I want to do a whole bunch of things.- Dylan Hope, graduate
According to the school, there are 29 Indigenous students on track to complete high school by the end of this month.
The ceremony began with feeding the fire, traditional drumming and the lighting of the qulliq (a traditional Inuit oil lamp). Guest speaker Kyla LeSage took the stage, talking about being an Indigenous high school grad just a few years ago.
"Four years ago, I sat in the same seats as these graduates today ... Four years ago I received my high school diploma. And just weeks ago, I attended my university convocation at the University of British Columbia," LeSage said.
"I know it's the most cliché thing I could say, but I really do encourage all of you to follow your dreams and to continue your education journey," LeSage told the graduates. "We need more educated Indigenous youth."
"I'm excited but kind of nervous walking in front of a bunch of people," 17-year-old graduate Samantha Sangris said. She transferred to Sir John Franklin from tiny Kaw Tay Whee School in Detah, N.W.T., in Grade 9.
Dangling from Sangris's ears were moosehide earrings that reached her shoulders.
"My Auntie Dolly made them," she said. "I felt so excited. I was like, 'Oh my goodness I'm getting a part of my heritage and I get to show it around.'"
Sangris said she's heading to Lethbridge, Alta., for school next year.
As the graduates walked across the gym, they were presented with a traditional graduation stole by a loved one; each of them beamed as they were also given a hug.
"It's kind of surreal. I feel like it didn't hit me until after — but right now, I really feel it," said Dylan Hope right after the ceremony.
Hope wore a traditional vest with special embroidery that represented his Dehcho Dene roots.
"Not everyone's vest is the same. It should be a personification of yourself," he explained. "I have a lot of pride, not only for myself but for my people."
Hope is heading to Mount Royal University in Calgary for health and physical education.
"I want to travel, I want to make a difference, I want to do a whole bunch of things," he said.