U of Manitoba’s graduation powwow goes online to celebrate Indigenous grads

By | May 1, 2020

Years of late nights spent writing assignments and studying for tests are coming to an anti-climactic end this spring for many new university graduates, but a virtual celebration is in the works for the University of Manitoba’s Indigenous students.

“I’m mostly disappointed,” said student Brendan Wood.

“I know that sounds selfish but I’ve been going to school for five years only for [the graduation ceremony] to be postponed. I know we’re going to have it eventually, and I know it’s for the best, but it’s disappointing.”

The University of Manitoba cancelled the spring convocations that would have been held in May and June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even graduation photo shoots in March were cancelled, though Wood said that wasn’t as disappointing.

Brendan Wood is graduating this year from the University of Manitoba. (University of Manitoba)

“A photo is a photo, it will happen eventually.”

Wood, who is Oji-Cree from St. Theresa Point, began his studies at the University of Manitoba in 2015. He is now poised to graduate from the U of M with a bachelor of arts, majoring in criminology with a minor in Native studies.

He is hoping to eventually work in Manitoba’s justice system and would like to help reduce the number of Indigenous people who are incarcerated. For now, he works as an Indigenous support worker at the Mount Carmel Clinic in Winnipeg, advocating for people facing struggles with addictions and homelessness.

Grad powwow goes virtual

This year would have marked the 31st anniversary of the University of Manitoba’s Traditional Graduation Powwow. For Indigenous graduates, the powwow is an opportunity to celebrate among the larger Indigenous community.

The University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, seen here on April 8, is among post-secondary institutions dealing with the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Christine Cyr, director of the university’s Indigenous Student Centre, said there are usually 90-100 students who are celebrated at the annual powwow. This year, they plan to hold a virtual celebration on Facebook live on Saturday, the day the powwow would have been held.

“A lot of students were telling us that they were grieving about not being able to celebrate with their family, friends and community,” said Cyr.

“So we thought that we would do something online to celebrate their achievements.”

The event will honour about 60 students who have sent in short profiles and photos. The celebration will feature the usual powwow MC and long time student/cultural advisor Carl Stone, Indigenous musical performances, as well messages from local community members and former grads.

Carly McLellan, who is M├ętis-Cree, went to the graduation powwow for the first time when she obtained her first degree in 2016. 

Carly McLellan got to attend the graduation powwow in-person for her first degree. (Submitted by Carly McLellan)

“It was amazing, that feeling at the end after everyone’s names are announced,” said McLellan.

“You go around and congratulate everyone and then everyone in the centre comes to congratulate you. There’s nothing like that.”

This year, McLellan is graduating from the Max Rady College of Medicine. She plans on becoming a family physician and would like to work with Indigenous communities in rural and northern Manitoba.

“I think it’s really nice that they want to acknowledge us grads even though we can’t do it in person,” said McLellan. 

The virtual celebration is expected to last about an hour and will be streamed live on the Indigenous Students Centre at U of M’s Facebook page at noon CT.

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