ATHABASCA — It was an important day as Edwin Parr Composite School (EPC) in Athabasca held the first-ever Indigenous graduation ceremony ever held within Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS).
Ten of the 12 graduates took part in the graduation held in the EPC gym May 12 which started with a prayer, a banquet, a grand march to drumming and singing by Indigenous drummers and special lessons from Elder Elsie Paul and performer Stan Arcand.
“Thank you so much for the younger generation, it gives me a better tomorrow just to know you're graduating," said Paul. "You’re going to be our wellness elders. Your elders in the making, and elders are full of knowledge. You're going to be teachers and healers for future generations.”
Supt. Neil O’Shea encouraged the students to never stop learning but also to ensure their culture and language continued.
“The only other piece of advice I would like to give you other than continue to learn and open yourself up to new experiences is do whatever you can to help restore your language,” he said. “I once heard somebody say there is no more beautiful sound than hearing somebody speak their native language.”
He also thanked everyone who helped arrange the ceremony and it was important to the school division to have the event.
“Thank you for the people who stepped up and said, ‘This is something we need to do, we need to have a graduation ceremony for Indigenous students,’” said O’Shea. “It's very important for us and for me to be here and be able to participate in it."
Elder Elsie Paul smudged the eagle feathers and Métis sashes before everyone arrived and took a few minutes to explain the importance of the eagle feather and Métis sash to the students before they were presented.
“The eagle was chosen to be a messenger for our prayers because it can (fly) so high up,” she said. “Another teaching is that it has powerful vision. We learn from the eagle that we should develop powerful vision in our life because if we do, we can make better decisions.”
Arcand explained there are four parts to the eagle feather which correspond to the lifespan of a person — the shaft is life, the fluffy, downy feathers at the base of the shaft are when a person is young, then the feathers start to smooth out as they gain wisdom, the darkest feathers at the end of the shaft represent when a person is near the end of their life and the point at the end is when they pass to the next stage.
“And the reason why it's not perfectly straight is because nothing in life is perfect, not even us," said Arcand.
“It feels amazing,” said 17-year-old Keisha Cardinal after the ceremony. “It just means a lot, especially coming from an elder.”
Beside her, Emily Johnston, 18, was also excited to be in the graduation and thanked AVPS First Nations, Metis, Inuit Family School liaison Alma Swan for making the special protectors for the eagle feathers they were presented.
“They really are beautiful,” she said.