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As one of the graduates being honored I arrived not really knowing what was expected of me, but everything fell into place as the evening progressed. My first impression was that I would simply have to sit at the table of eight reserved for myself and my guests that night and listen to the entertainment. Was I in for a surprise. I arrived at the Saskatoon Inn a little late, just before the Grand Entry was to take place, and was slightly unaware of what was going on.
I took a seat with my family and guests and watched as the Grand Entry procession milled into the banquet room to an honor song played by the Wanuskewin drum group. The grand entry that entered the room was led by veterans and other respected elders, who carried flagstaffs and walked at the slow pace suited to the honor song. I thought how exceptional it was for those people to be honored when I started to see familiar faces from the university campus. I was wondering what those students had accomplished to be honored in that way when I realized they were the Aboriginal students graduating and I was supposed to be walking along with them. I started to panic a little, but calmed down when the honor song was finished and I was able to take my place in the line of graduates standing where everyone could see them. I was soon to realize that I was not the only one who was nervous. A respected elder from Whitecap, Maria Linklator, said the opening prayer in the Cree language. Linklator is one of the elders who comes to the university once a week to be available for counseling to Aboriginal students. Her involvement in the banquet ceremony was suitable, as she is well known by most of the students. The graduates stood side by side and waited to be commended as applause was bestowed upon each one of them.
The buffet dinner was then served and everyone ate while listening to the musical interlude of Joseph Naytowhow. Who is better known as Nikamo, which means 'sing' in the Cree language. He started with some jokes and sang some Indian songs with his
Many of the guest speakers commented on their own university experience and their expectations of Aboriginal University graduates. These included Dean Ken Coates, university chancellor Tom Malloy, university secretary Dr. Gordon Barnhart, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation's representative Gerry Burton, Winona Wheeler from SIFC, Sheila Pocha from Gabriel Dumont Institute, and MLA Keith Goulet. After a moving speech about the increasing number of Aboriginal graduates and the congruency of their representation in society, keynote speaker Goulet received a standing ovation.
The toasts were then made by the parents, students, faculty, post-secondary counselors, and employers of the university. Two of the graduates, Joseph and Steven Swan, president and vice president of the Indigenous Student Council, were the target of a joke told by their post-secondary coordinator, Carol Lafond, of Montreal Lake Cree Nation. She explained a situation in which two students supposedly Joseph and Steven missed their exam because of a late night party. They went to the professor the next day and gave the excuse of a flat tire. The professor gave them a chance on the condition that they sit in separate rooms. They looked at the exam question and read "which tire was flat?"
The post-secondary counselors from some of the reserves made presentations and chose to honor their students with gifts of money, items and plaques. Traditional gifts were presented to some of the students, including two star blankets and a pair of moccasins. The presenters explained the significance of each gift. I was the one who was presented with the moccasins. I was told, in Cree, I have come far in my education but still have far to go in my journey ahead, and having that gift would help me to take those steps forth.
Charlotte Ross, Aboriginal Advisor at the university and organizer of the event, made the closing comments and gave a farewell to the graduates. She gave thanks to everyone for helping her with preparations and for attending the event. Everyone was invited to the dance afterward. It was a very memorable experience for the graduates. For myself, it was an honour.