On Monday, June 6, our Indigenous graduands were honoured in the presence of their loved ones, staff, faculty, community members and StMU Elders Casey Eagle Speaker and Dr. (Grandmother) Doreen Spence, along with Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt, a proud member of the Métis
Nation and scholar. We gathered together in ceremony to celebrate and recognize our Indigenous graduates for reaching their academic goals. The celebrations started with smudging and welcome to the ceremony by Michelle Scott, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at St. Mary’s University and included prayers and a blessings from Kainai Elder,Casey Eagle Speaker.
During the ceremony, First Nations students were gifted with an eagle feather from Elder Casey Eagle Speaker, and Métis students were gifted a sash by Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt. The eagle and its feathers are a symbol of strength and bravery, and are given with respect and worn with pride. The Métis sash represents the storied history of people who fought not to be invisible, and the presentation of this sash is considered a great honor and it is worn with distinct esteem.
“As a Métis graduate of St. Mary’s University I was honoured to have been able to attend and be recognized at the Indigenous Graduation ceremony held this year. My deeply held passion for the Métis and Indigenous community made the graduation ceremony that much more special to me and my family,” explains Alysha Akins, who recently graduated with her Bachelor of Arts, Liberal Studies. “I will forever hold the moments I shared with my Elders at the ceremony close to my heart and I thank St. Mary’s University for being so welcoming and supportive of all of their Indigenous students.”
After the graduands received their ceremonial feather or sash, each was draped in a ceremonial blanket which recognizes their accomplishment and shows respect for those who have made an important contribution to their community.
“Being honoured at the Indigenous Graduation was such a beautiful and intimate experience. I was gifted with my first Métis sash and participated in a traditional blanket ceremony that celebrated my accomplishment,” says Caij Meloche, who recently graduated from our Bachelor of Education, Elementary program. “It was a sacred and moving ceremony shared within my community. I will hold the memory of this event close to my heart for years to come.”
In addition to celebrating our Indigenous graduates by honouring culture and tradition, June 6th also marked a special occasion for Dr. Gerry Turcotte, who has made an incredible impact at our university through his steadfast support for Indigenous initiatives on campus.
“I have spent virtually my entire academic life working with Aboriginal and First Nations communities, for twenty-five years in Australia and then again when I returned to Canada. And it was one of the first commitments I made when I was hired that we would learn to walk in a good way with Métis and First Nations communities,” explains Dr. Turcotte. “I’m grateful that the St. Mary’s has supported this direction, and thankful that we have had phenomenal leadership in this area.”
In recognition of Dr. Turcotte’s contributions, Kainai Elder, Casey Eagle Speaker gifted him with the name Mountain Thunder in a traditional Blackfoot Naming Ceremony. Casey shared that this name was chosen as mountains represent strength and thunder represents that something new is rolling in over the horizon. The spiritual significance of this name is something that Dr. Turcotte can continue to carry with him, and identify by, long after he has left St. Mary’s as our outgoing president.
“To be recognized for the small contribution I’ve made, through the gifting of my Blackfoot name, is beyond special and was one of the greatest honours of my life,” says Dr. Turcotte.
The Indigenous Graduation Ceremony finished with the St. Mary’s Honour Song – which was composed by the Sorrel Rider Singers. After the ceremony, everyone enjoyed fresh bannock and stew from local Indigenous catering company, Bakers Bannock.
Learn more about our Indigenous Initiatives at St. Mary’s University.
St. Mary’s University is located in the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, the Piikani, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina and the Iyahe Nakoda. We are situated on land where the Bow River meets the Elbow River; the traditional Blackfoot name of this place is “Mohkinstsis,” which we now call the City of Calgary. The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.