A total of 27 secondary school graduates and 57 post-secondary ones were honoured at the Seven Generations Education Institute’s 27th-annual graduation ceremony here Thursday afternoon at the Memorial Sports Centre.
In front of family and friends, graduates walked across the stage to receive their Ontario Secondary School Diplomas, as well as certificates for the Personal Support Worker, General Arts & Sciences, Building Construction, Police Foundations, Mental Health & Addictions Worker, Welding Techniques, and Esthetics programs through Canadore and Sault colleges.
Bachelor’s degrees also were earned from Laurentian, Queen’s, and Lakehead universities in education, arts, and indigenous social work.
This year’s secondary school valedictorian was Jodie Kabatay of Mitaanjigaming FN.
“When I received the news that I had been selected as the valedictorian, I was in so much shock that I didn’t believe it for a second–until I re-read the message and that’s when it truly hit me,” she remarked.
“I got this overwhelming feeling of happiness and started to cry,” Kabatay added.
“I’d been chasing the dream of graduating for quite some time now but over the last few years, I made it my main goal to graduate and get my diploma.”
Kabatay admitted balancing work and school was tough, and there were times when she felt like “throwing in the towel” because it got so stressful.
“But even when the times got tough, I promised myself I would keep on going and never give up until I reached my goal,” she noted.
“I believe that my hard work and determination is what got me here.”
Kabatay thanked many people for encouraging her to fight for her goal, most of all her father, Stewart Henderson, whom she said “is and always [will] be my biggest inspiration in life.”
Meanwhile, Apprenticeship, Essential Skills, and Post-Secondary valedictorian Deanna Swain of Grassy Narrows FN spoke about the struggles in her life and her decision to pursue an education.
“My journey has been such a personal journey–spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally,” said Swain, who graduated with her School of Indigenous Relations’ Honours Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work degree through Laurentian University.
She said she is a survivor of the effects of inter-generational trauma caused by the colonial assimilation of the residential school legacy, like many others, but has persevered.
“If I can do it, so can you,” Swain stressed. “My education journey raised me up. It brought me structure, it brought me stability. I was disciplined. I learned through trial and error.
“I cried many times but also experienced many uplifting moments which helped me carry through with my journey,” she added, crediting her professors for their encouragement to believe in herself.
“We all have those gifts within us–the determination, the motivation, the commitment, the desire to achieve,” Swain noted.
“Sometimes we just have to dig a little deeper to find it.”
Kabatay received a plaque and a $500 award while Swain was given a plaque and a $300 award.
Other awards and bursaries presented included:
•Scott Clendenning Bursary (plaque and $500)–Janice Penagin;
•FFHS Academic Athletic Achievement Award (plaque and $100)–Ben Smith and Annalise “CC” Hayes;
•Seven Generations Secondary School Bursary ($500)–Randy Morrison;
•Highest Academic Achievement Award (plaque and $300)–Alexandra Gordon (Apprenticeship, Essential Skills and Post-Secondary College) and Danine Chief (University);
•Seven Generations Secondary School Co-op (plaque and $300)–Arial Bruyere; and
•Seven Generations Secondary School Outstanding Achievement (plaque and $300)–Brendan Pitremont.
SGEI CEO Brent Tookenay thanked the grads for choosing “Seven Gens” and allowing them to help those students reach their educational goals.
“I am both proud and humbled that you guys are here, sitting here today with us,” he remarked. “I feel really good on graduation day.
“And meegwetch to all of the family and friends of the graduates,” Tookenay added. “I know without your support, it’s very difficult to have success.
“You need that support at home, you need that babysitting here and there,” he stressed. “You need those types of things so family members and friends–meegwetch.”
Tookenay said many people have seen the progress on the construction of the new SGEI facility on Agency One land near Nanicost, and explained “it is a vision of our elders and our leadership from our communities.”
“This will become our latest chapter in the educational journey of ‘Seven Gens’ students and communities,” he said. “The building is for our students and communities of Treaty #3.
“As we move forward, it is important for Anishinaabe to remain grounded in our language, culture, and traditions,” Tookenay added. “But we also have our duty to share our knowledge, language, culture, traditions, and expertise with all communities and people.
“Us, as Anishinaabe, have a lot offer the world, and in education, we will continue to provide these opportunities for everyone to learn and work together.”
The keynote address was delivered by Laurie Robinson, chair and executive director of the Indigenous Advanced Education and Skills Council, a newly-formed organization that is a quality-assurance and research body for indigenous institutes in Ontario.
With her colleagues, she is helping put into place the opportunity for institutes in Ontario such as SGEI to offer their own certificates, degrees, and diplomas.
“All of you made a decision to get some kind of program credentials, to go and do something,” Robinson told the graduates. “And now your job is to go and do even more of that; to keep that mind going and going and going.
“You have so much to do but jeez, have you done a lot to get here,” she added. “The studying, the driving, the travelling . . . but now you’re all equipped, you really are.
“You’re equipped to help and do more.”
Robinson acknowledged the hard work of the partners SGEI has been working with to deliver programs to students. But with the work she and her organization is doing, the “day is going to come very soon” when there will be Seven Generations Education Institute degrees, diplomas, and certificates and “what a fantastic day” that will be.
“That’s about indigenous control of indigenous education,” she remarked.
“Just as this event here is today, ceremony is welcomed. The songs are welcomed,” she noted. “It’s not anything to be hidden anymore, and it’s led by all of you and your communities.
“That’s an amazing thing for me to be a part of.”
Elder Doris Caribou of Naicatchewenin FN performed the invocation to begin the ceremony, as well as blessed the post-grad ceremony feast and performed the closing prayer.
Dan Bird was the Master of Ceremonies.