At this graduation powwow, Indigenous students celebrate their achievements and culture
For many, graduating from university marks the moment you truly enter the world as a grown-up.
At the University of Manitoba, this year marks the largest number of Indigenous students getting their diplomas. Now or Never met two of them at the 29th Annual Traditional Graduation Powwow in Winnipeg.
Cameron Flamand didn't embrace his Métis heritage until he was 19.
"I grew up knowing I was Métis, but not culturally rooted and understanding what it meant to be Métis," he said.
The graduate from Teulon, Man., learned about his culture through studying the Michif language and learning how to bead.
"That's why I decided I'm wearing my vest, my medallions. I made all this. It's all my work," he explained. "It's something I'm proud of. Something we should all be celebrating is our culture — no matter where anyone is from."
Flamand is the first person in his immediate family to graduate from university. And it hasn't always been easy for him.
"When I was younger," he said, "I was told I would never be able to graduate university."
He now has two degrees — one in fine arts and one in education.
"It's something to be proud of and just to show people who are being told they can't do it," he said. "You can do it if you just set your mind to it. Put in a little bit of work and you'll get there."
Flamand is speaking from experience. Just over five years ago, he was diagnosed with a learning disability. He's now considering a job offer and wants to help others in similar situations.
Rayanna Seymour-Hourie of Big Island in Treaty 3 territory is another proud graduate. At the powwow, she and Flamand each had a chance to address the Class of 2018. When asked how she feels about the powwow, her face lights up.
"I think it's a really unique way to gather together and to celebrate Indigenous achievement with Indigenous people and voices," she said.
"And I think it's really powerful to be supported by our community and the drums and the elders and the young people."
In her speech, Seymour-Hourie described how her grandfather went to jail for being a sundancer.
"And today I stand here about to receive my degree in law and I am a sundancer," she said with pride.
"I want to acknowledge everybody who came before us and paved the way for us because we wouldn't have been able to do it without them," she continued.
Seymour-Hourie is also the first person in her immediate family to get a law degree. She credits her mother, grandmother, aunties, sisters and nieces for showing her every day what it means to be Anishinaabe.
"My cousin Diane Kelly — she's a lawyer. It was really inspiring to see what she was able to do with her degree."
Seymour-Hourie was especially happy to see so many women receiving their degrees.
"So I encourage every single woman in here, especially the graduates," she said. "You are amazing and you are the foundation of our communities and nations."