Grassroots youth-led initiative celebrates 2020's Indigenous grads

The initiative asks graduates and their supporters to share images, videos, and reflections on social media with the hashtag #IndigenousGrad2020.

Averi Doxtator, 17, wanted to do something special for fellow Indigenous graduates amid the pandemic

Averi Doxtator, 17, sparked the idea that launched a grassroots initiative to celebrate this year's Indigenous graduates. (Averi Doxtator)

A First Nations teenager is calling on Indigenous grads, proud parents, aunties, leaders, friends, and coaches to participate in a grassroots initiative that recognizes the achievements of this year's graduates across the country.

Averi Doxtator, 17, felt inspired after watching Barack and Michelle Obama's joint commencement speech for the class of 2020 and wanted something similar for Indigenous students.

The initiative asks grads and their supporters to share images, videos, and reflections on social media with the hashtag #IndigenousGrad2020. The collected media comes together at the Indigenous Grads 2020 website and will be showcased June 26 via an online live stream. 

"It's just something positive that's happening amidst so much chaos in the world," said Doxtator, who is Haudenosaunee (Oneida), Anishinaabe from Walpole Island First Nation and Dakota from Sioux Valley.

"It's really important to give other students hope and positive energy during this time."

Doxtator is graduating from École Franco-Cité in Ottawa this month. Her prom and graduation ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like many across the country. She was looking forward to her grandmother attending the ceremony.

"It's important to celebrate all grads because it's a milestone in someone's life," she said. 

"Dropping out is a reality Indigenous youth face, so just to acknowledge that they've made it and achieved that accomplishment is really special."

Posts with the hashtag #IndigenousGrad2020 are collected from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and shown on the website. (CBC)

Jocelyn Formsma is one of the handful of volunteers helping Doxtator and her mother Gina Doxtator make the idea become a reality.

"High school, university, law school, being called to the bar — those were really special moments for me and it was a point for my family to gather around and show their pride. I couldn't imagine not having that," said Formsma.

"A way that we can nationally express our pride and appreciation for students' accomplishments, that really resonated with me."

Formsma said the project has felt like a bright light amid the pandemic.

"This is so needed right now. Almost every day, I'm checking the website once or twice a day at least. I just love seeing all of those posts. More people are adding their photos and messages, and it's just so uplifting."

Dozens of photos and well wishes from parents have already been submitted since the website launched last week.

"This is an amazing opportunity to show everyone everywhere that there are Indigenous students graduating," said Michael Hachey, who shared a photo of himself and his twin sister.

Both are high school seniors from Elsipogtog First Nation, N.B. 

"There's all of the stereotypes, like dropouts and that Indigenous students don't move on besides high school, so I think this was really important to have," he said.

About the Author

Jessica Deer


Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.