New exhibit honours Yukon First Nations high school graduates and their regalia

A new exhibit opened this week in Whitehorse to celebrate the stunning regalia worn by Yukon First Nations graduates.

Honouring Our Future opened in Whitehorse this week, will tour across territory

The Honouring Our Future exhibit will be in Whitehorse until April 30 and then travel across the territory until the fall of 2023. The dress on the left was worn by 2013 graduate Brittney Telep, from the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council and made by Ellenise and Dorothy Profeit. The regalia on the right was worn by Sarrah Telep of the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council, who graduated in 2019. It was made by Ellenise Profriet. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

Rich colours, intricate beadwork, and creative designs.

That is just some of what encompasses the regalia Yukon First Nations high school graduates have been wearing for the past 45 years.

The annual First Nations high school graduation ceremony celebrates the graduates' achievements. They come in traditional dress and there are traditional dancers, drummers, and entertainers at the event as well as traditional food.

The "Native Grad" as it has become known as, is sponsored by the Council for Yukon First Nations and all 14 First Nations of the the territory. 

Now a new exhibit, Honouring Our Future, is going to showcase the art and celebrate the history and design.

It opened this week at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse, before it will go on tour across the territory to different cultural centres.

This vest was worn by Dakota Hogan, a 2013 graduate from the Teslin Tlingit Council. The vest and beading were done by Robin Smarch. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

Lisa Dewhurst, exhibition curator, says it's an unbelievable showcase filled with absolutely beautiful pieces of art.

She said the exhibit is a way of bringing the pieces together and putting them on display for a broader audience.

"It's a way to bring all those pieces together and put them on display for a few years so many people can see them and appreciate them and learn about the story — that love, pride, and support that communities share and show for their young graduates," Dewhurst said.

This blanket was worn by Shania Hogan, a 2017 graduate from the Teslin Tlingit Council. It was hand sewn by Robin Smarch, and the crest was designed by Blake Lepine. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

The pieces are a community effort — put together by moms, aunties, grannies, other family, Clan, community matriarchs and patriarchs, and community sewing groups. 

"From what I've seen in my community it is really just a pulling together of all resources, and people with the best expertise to help because they all want their graduates to be looking their best on their graduation," said Dewhurst.

She said that some of the artists even began their intricate creations as early as the month of August of the year prior to the graduation date.

This dress was worn by 2017 graduate Taiya Melancon from the First Nation of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun. Taiya also designed the dress and worked on the beadwork alongside Bobbi-Lee Melancon and Liz Blair. The white pig skin dress was sewn together by Annabelle Lattie. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

"Once you start examining some of these pieces, you will really see the really personal loving touches and creative touches," she said.

The exhibit will be at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre until April 30, before travelling on to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City for the summer, and other locations across the territory until the fall of 2023.

These shoes were worn by Delilah Stephen-Bailey and Samantha Stephen-Bailey. They were both graduates from the White River First Nation in 2019. The shoes were made by their grandmother, Doris John. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

with files from Elyn Jones