British Columbia - Eschewing the traditional mortarboard, graduates
at Simon Fraser University (SFU) wore a ceremonial cedar headband
during convocation specifically for Native Canadians.
students donned the hand-woven regalia, which represented achievement
and completion as was appropriated to them from a Haida craftswoman.
The director of the First Nations Student Centre (FNSC), Sasha Hobbs
believes the importance of this regalia offered a symbolism to the
event besides already receiving a degree.
wanted to give the students something to take away as a memento
of the day," Hobbs said. "While walking in two worlds,
the students can keep their (Aboriginal) identity."
on Burnaby Mountain, overlooking the city of Vancouver and Canadas
picturesque West Coast, Simon Fraser is in the countrys top-10
of university enrollments with 23,000 undergraduates. The main campus
is on the historical lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Sto:lo
nations. In addition to reflecting the ethnic diversity at the school,
given the surrounding environment its natural, said Hobbs,
to have a Native-only graduation.
need to have a traditional First Nations ceremony because this is
First Nations territory. That is protocol and we have a right to
practice this," stated Hobbs.
affair on June 1 offered students the intimate opportunity of taking
the microphone for whatever words they wanted to express. Most of
the impromptu speeches were short, tending to give thanks for the
assistance lent by family, friends and faculty.
his B.A. in Archaeology and Anthropology, Del Blaney, in addition
to appreciating his wifes support through five years, went
on to state his future goals.
applied to continue with my education. I dont know why but
Im hooked on learning," he remarked.
employed in the timber industry, Blaney switched directions to pursue
academics at the age of 39 taking advantage of provincial retraining
programs. Now 45, he said his degree offered times of stress and
exhilaration but he anxiously looks forward to entering a masters
program at the Faculty of Education.
the goal of becoming a teacher back in his Sliammon Nation on B.C.s
Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver, Blaney also has ambitions of
entering a school boards administration. Citing high dropout
rates among rural Aboriginal students, Blaney mentioned part of
the problem of educational settings is they havent reflected
the needs of First Nations.
administrative position is to develop a curriculum in schools to
help raise their pride and their true sense of worth within their
community," Blaney said.
with an all-Native graduation at SFU, the university too is on the
receiving end of some stinging criticism. There are only 160 Aboriginal
undergraduates, a proportion far less than the rest of British Columbia
where First Nations comprise 5 percent of the population (most other
post-secondary institutions in Canada also have a disproportionately
low ratio of indigenous students).
as a liberal cosmopolitan campus, even among other Canadian universities,
Simon Fraser has previously acknowledged it has been slow to incorporate
Natives into campus life and assist with their requirements. Most
of the eight Aboriginal or Métis staff at SFU are employed
at the FNSC while only three professors are of First Nations descent.
coordinator at the FNSC, Rick Ouellet, in doling out praise for
the professors and learning environment at the university, is highly
critical of the schools administration. Working on his masters
thesis in Archaeology that involves his Métis ancestral roots
in Jasper (Alberta) National Park, Ouellet pointed out that even
recent events at SFU display a cultural insensitivity.
this spring a mural which was painted in the 1950s was erected that,
as Ouellet bluntly said, was offensive. Displaying a European explorer,
the Native Indians are depicted as bowing down to this white man.
the result of B.C.s need to deny its history because if it
accepted the First Nations history, then it would have to admit
that the resources belonged to the First Nations," Ouellet
said. "Most of the province is still unsettled and so there
is a need to perpetuate this myth."
where the First Nations Student Centre comes in. Developed in 1996
following a provincial report to increase access in post-secondary
institutions for Aboriginal students, every public college and university
in B.C. has an FNSC.
at promoting Aboriginal initiatives, the center also consults with
academic departments and serves as a community liaison.
have become a place where people can go to find out about First
Nations and to be connected (with other resources)," said Hobbs
whose center hosted the graduation.