U of W honours Indigenous graduates with 1st powwow in 4 years

Indigenous graduates at the University of Winnipeg held their first celebratory powwow in four years at the Duckworth Centre on Saturday.

Families and friends of the graduates, representing a range of Indigenous cultures and communities, packed the Duckworth Centre with a mix of traditional clothing and dancing on display.

More than 50 graduates received their degrees, including Brandy Racette from Duck Lake, Sask.

She got her bachelor of education, something she once thought would never happen as a mom working full-time.

“I just never thought that that was in the cards for me,” she said.

“My heart’s beating so fast. I’m so excited and nervous … It means so much, especially to have my family here, to celebrate in this way. I’m going to be crying. I’m on the verge, I can feel it.”

Three women are standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling and looking at the camera.
Racette was joined at the ceremony by fellow education graduates Cara Velnes (centre) and Jorden Smith (right). (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Racette stood alongside fellow education graduate Jorden Smith, from Roseau River, Man.

“I’m very nervous but I’m very excited and happy and overwhelmed,” Smith said.

Smith hopes to get a permanent job teaching at Ginew School in Roseau River, where she currently works as part of her studies.

“[This ceremony] means a lot, actually. I’ve attended them in the past and it’s been obviously a goal of mine to graduate,” she said.

Braden Berens-Squires received his bachelor of education degree.

He grew up in Winnipeg’s North End and says he wants to be an example to others.

“It means everything. Just to become a teacher because I want to inspire and educate the youth, show them that it’s possible, and show them that I’m an example of where they can go,” he said.

A crowd of people are walking toward the camera inside a gym, carrying flags, eagle staffs, some wearing ceremonial Indigenous and military clothing.
The ceremony included a grand entry, with drumming, singing and dancing. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Brett Kapilik came to support his daughter, Naomi. His family is Métis, and his grandmother is Cree from the Tyndall area.

He said his daughter grew connected to the community at the university.

“She’s worked really hard, she’s got great marks, she’s focused and it’s been wonderful. Proud dad,” he said.

The annual ceremony – including a grand entry with drumming, singing and dancing – had been held every year up until 2019. 

“We have traditionally done this, COVID put it on hold for a while, so this is the first time in four years that we’ve been able to gather as a community to honour our Indigenous graduates,” said Tanis McLeod Kolisnyk, coordinator of the Aboriginal Students Centre at the University of Winnipeg.

A man is standing with other people in a line, holding a red folder.
Braden Berens-Squires stands with other graduates after receiving his degree. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Students students made ribbon shirts and skirts with elders at the university. 

The students at the ceremony on Saturday don’t represent all Indigenous graduates from the university this year, only those that elected to participate, McLeod Kolisnyk said. 

There will be more opportunities to honour Indigenous graduates in the months leading up to convocation on June 19, she said.

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