Nova Scotia

Dalhousie University honours grads of Indigenous, African descent

Dalhousie University students of Indigenous and African descent were given the opportunity to recognize their heritage during convocation ceremonies this year.

Students offered Aboriginal medicinal pouch, West African Kente cloth at graduation

Jacqueline Smith, originally from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba, accepts her medicine pouch during convocation. (Dalhousie University)

Dalhousie University students of Indigenous and African descent were given the opportunity to recognize their heritage during convocation ceremonies this year.

Students, who self-identify as Indigenous, were offered a handmade medicine pouch from a Native elder on stage during graduation. 

For the first time, students of African descent were given the opportunity to borrow a Kente cloth sash to wear during ceremonies. 

'Where you are now'

The cloth was originally worn by tribal royalty in Ghana, but has become a common marker of heritage for students with descendants from many African countries. 

Nigerian engineering graduate Maigoro Yunana said he felt proud wearing the cloth to accept his degree. 

"You remember where you are from," he said. "It's where you are from that brought you to where you are now." 

Yunana said he was glad to recognize his homeland, as his family watched the ceremony online from Africa. 

Maigoro Yunana, a Nigerian engineering graduate, proudly wears the Kente Cloth. (CBC)

'Extremely proud of our students'

Geri Musqua-Leblanc, head of Dalhousie's elders-in-residence program, was on the stage with other elders handing out 30 handmade leather pouches filled with tobacco, sweet grass, sage, and cedar — which are traditional medicines used in smudging ceremonies. 

"Anything that is given to a person by an elder has great significance," she said. 

"The elders are extremely proud of our students."

Geri Musqua-Leblanc holds the contents of the medicine pouches handed out to students during graduation. (CBC)

It's the first time students have been offered medicine pouches from elders during convocation at Dalhousie, which Musqua-Leblanc called "a huge step."

The elders-in-residence program began last fall to give students access to elders on campus for guidance, counsel and support. 

'I am an Indigenous student'

For graduate Jacqueline Smith, the pouch was a symbolic recognition of her Cree heritage, she said. The 25-year-old from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in central Manitoba has only just begun to learn about her history, she said.

"A lot of Indigenous people didn't grow up being proud of being Indigenous," Smith said.

"It's a huge step to be on that stage in front of everybody and receive this pouch that's saying, you know, I am an Indigenous student." 

'Histories are rising up'

Musqua-Leblanc also said it's a symbol of reconciliation, referring to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. 

The introduction of Indigenous and African heritage at graduation will help create a move inclusive ceremony for students of all backgrounds, she said.

"Both our histories, both group's histories are rising up," she said. "They're going to be told — the real histories, not what we were taught in schools."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie vanKampen

Videojournalist

Stephanie vanKampen is a videojournalist with the CBC News in Prince Edward Island. Send story ideas to stephanie.vankampen @cbc.ca

With files from Stephanie Blanchet/Radio Canada

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