Bells tinkle and a rainbow of sequins glitter as two young dancers chase each other shrieking, black braids and ribbons trailing behind them. Aboriginal drum beats and chanting puts an end to the pursuit, and the girls scoot into their place in line, eager to celebrate the accomplishments of their sister, their cousin and the entire Aboriginal community through dance.
This was the scene as the Native Centre held its 25th annual Aboriginal graduation banquet and pow-wow Sat., June 10. The celebration honoured the more than 80 University of Calgary First Nations graduates through feast, awards, music and dance.
“The celebration is a special recognition of Aboriginal graduates because they are traditionally underrepresented at university,” explained Native Centre administrative coordinator Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes. “There is a special connection with achievement in the Aboriginal community. It’s not just the student, it’s the whole community that comes out to support them.”
And support them they did. The 460-person dinner had the Red and White club filled to capacity with guests from across Canada.
The main event was a pow-wow, where dancers and drummers joined to celebrate through music and dance.
“Pow-wow is an Algonquin word for ‘he who dreams’,” explained Chagnon-Greyeyes. “It’s a time for people to come together and share their honour and successes.”
In addition to the pow-wow 48 students were presented with eagle feathers and Pendelton blankets, traditional gifts, which were blessed by elders in a gifting ceremony.
“The eagle feather is a symbol of achievement,” said Chagnon-Greyeyes. “As a test of a warrior’s strength and cunning, he had to sneak up behind the bird and pluck a feather. Now it represents strength and achievement.”
Chagnon-Greyeyes explained Metis students were also presented with a sash.
“The Metis sash is kind of like a Scottish tartan–they are family emblems,” said Chagnon-Greyeyes. She explained that when the British defeated the Metis, they burned the sashes, because they sensed their connection with Metis history. The sashes have come to represent Metis strength in the face of adversity.
Political science graduate Terry Williston was presented with the George D. Calliou Award for achievement and contribution to the Aboriginal community for his work with the First Nations Students’ Association and the Alberta Government’s standing committee on Aboriginal affairs.
“Thank you so much, I am speechless for the first time in a long time,” said Williston, upon receiving the award.