The University of Saskatchewan (USask) will hold the second Indigenous Graduation Celebration—and the first to be held in-person—beginning at 2 pm on Friday, June 3. The last in-person event was held in the spring of 2019 when the former Graduation Powwow was held, an event that has transitioned into the new Indigenous Graduation Celebration format.
“We are looking forward to finally be returning to Merlis Belsher Place to honour the university’s graduating Indigenous students in-person again, in the traditional way and with an eye to the future,” said Graeme Joseph, Team Leader, First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Success in the Teaching, Learning and Student Experience portfolio at USask. “We have missed gathering in-person to honour these remarkable students, and to celebrate their accomplishments with their friends and families, in a good way.”
Close to 180 graduating Indigenous students are expected to take part in the event, with a mixture of fall 2021 graduates and students graduating in the 2022 spring semester. With students’ family and friends, university faculty and senior leaders, along with performers and honoured guests, the event is expected to draw about 300 in attendance. The event will also be livestreamed for those who are unable to attend in person.
“From the tradition of the Graduation Powwow to the new Indigenous Graduation Celebration, this is one of the most important events of the year and we are proud of the opportunity to pay tribute to and honour each of these students,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff. “They have overcome many challenges during the pandemic en route to completing their courses and programs. I join the university’s campus community in expressing how much we look forward to honouring each of these graduates and to celebrate their success.”
The Indigenous Graduation Celebration event will feature a traditional honour walk, with dancing, jigging, drumming, and singing, as well as remarks and tributes from special guests. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event will be a smaller gathering than the Graduation Powwows people may remember, but members of the campus community are encouraged to come together to celebrate and honour the new graduates.
“It is so important to have the opportunity to celebrate the academic success of Indigenous students at the University of Saskatchewan,” said Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, senior director of the Provost’s Indigenous Initiatives and Community Relations. “Uplifting Indigenization, experiencing reconciliation, and embracing manācihitowin are woven into the fabric of our University Plan 2025, and supported by the university’s Indigenous Strategy, and the new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan.”
Graduates who attend the Indigenous Graduation Celebration will receive a Bison pin and an art print of mîkisak ikwa asiniyak ǀ Beads and Stone ǀ Lii rasaad aykwa lii rosh (in Cree, English and Michif). The artwork was created by Plains Cree artist Ruth Cuthand and Woodlands Cree artist Vanessa Hyggen—who are both USask alumni—in collaboration with the campus community in 2019 during Indigenous Achievement Week. The original piece—a broken slab of Tyndall stone joined together with resin and beadwork—is now permanently installed on a wall at the top of the Arts Building ramp.
Dating back to the 1980s, the original USask Graduation Powwow began as a celebration of the academic success of Métis, First Nations, and Inuit graduates of USask as well as local high schools. The event has also served as a major cultural celebration that has been held in a variety of locations across campus, from Griffiths Stadium to Convocation Hall, and from The Bowl to most recently Merlis Belsher Place. In 2019, the Graduation Powwow officially became part of the formal convocation calendar of events, kicking off celebrations on the Friday before convocation week begins. The Indigenous Graduation Celebration will continue that tradition.