By Lethbridge Herald on June 3, 2020.
Over two days this week, local graduating Indigenous high school students celebrated their accomplishments with a special ceremony from the Indigenous Educational Team at Lethbridge School Division.
As part of the division’s way to support and celebrate with the graduating class, the FNMI Education Team put together a special drive-through graduation ceremony for their students and their families.
“It was our Indigenous Education Team, because of COVID the traditional graduation ceremonies were cancelled, but we still wanted to do something for our Indigenous students as well,” says John Chief Calf, Lethbridge School Division co-ordinator of First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education. “We organized a graduation where the families would pull up and we would give them a gift box and they would drive 100 yards up and we had the ‘Oki’ sign and the teepee pole up so that the students were able to get their photo taken with them and the teachers were able to cheer them on and congratulate them.”
Over the two days, all high schools throughout the city had a moment to celebrate and honour their Indigenous students’ accomplishments. Chief Calf says with everything going on with COVID-19, it was an emotional but very positive day.
“It was a two-day process. The first day was Winston Churchill High School and Victoria Park High School and the second day was LCI and Chinook High School,” says Chief Calf.
“The students’ response has been great, the parents are very happy that something was done and that during COVID, to have a very strong positive memory during this difficult time is important, and I think having all of those emotions come out, it was great to see all of the smiles on the students’ faces, the parents and teachers as well.”
Students were given a graduation present box by Lethbridge School Division, but the Indigenous Education Team personalized their boxes to give them valuable elements connected to Indigenous culture to help them on their new path through life.
“We put things in the box that are important to the culture such as sweetgrass, dirt, the eagle feather,” says Chief Calf. “One of the unique situations about today is that so much of Indigenous learning really comes from the relationship with the land and you have land as a teaching mechanism by how you view the land and you see nature as a co-operative system. So when we have students and their parents, there is that visual comfort knowing that the sun is a witness to this event, and having the sun shine over the days was a wonderful thing.”
The Lethbridge School Division Indigenous Educational team has been working at improving their teachings and incorporating and encouraging more Blackfoot culture into the programs. Chief Calf says with the implication of a more personal connection to the culture, they have developed very strong relationships with their students.
“What I really enjoy is that we have started to take the program in a different direction by looking at some more inclusive programming, looking at co-curriculum projects, and not only the students see that, but they see the teachers engaging with them with not only the curriculum, but also engaging in the Indigenous culture,” says Chief Calf. “Now we have an elementary Indigenous teacher, we have a middle school Indigenous teacher, and I am the Indigenous high school teacher, and we also have the Indigenous grad coaches to help with the students moving forward.”
This year, 45 Indigenous students from Lethbridge walked across the graduation stage to accept and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments with their family, friends, mentors, and teachers who helped them through to completion.
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