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Indigenous graduation ceremony goes virtual

Last year’s graduating class.

Last spring, School District No. 57 held its first-ever Indigenous graduation ceremony. It was called Ts’udelhti and brought more than 80 students and their family members together at Prince George’s Vanier Hall for a celebration of achievement and cultural identity.

 Ts’udelhti will happen again this year, but in a different form because of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols put in place by the provincial government.

 For the second edition of Ts’udelhti, which means We Honour in Dakelh Lheidli dialect, SD 57’s Indigenous Education department is making a video that will seek to capture the spirit of a live ceremony. The video will be available online to graduates and incoming Kindergarten students in late June and will feature many of the same elements as the inaugural event – congratulatory speeches by Nation dignitaries, an address by a graduating student who began his or her schooling in the Head Start program, and cultural performances. Bringing graduates and new Kindergarten students together in a virtual way to view the video will be a symbolic representation of the educational journey.

 Videoconferencing technology will be used to capture all the different pieces that will be assembled into the final product.

 “We will be recognizing the grads and their journey in the best way we can in the situation we’re in right now,” said Lance Potskin, who is working on Ts’udelhti 2020 with Lisa Provencher, Jennifer Pighin, Shendah Benoit and Noelle Pepin.

At this stage in the planning process, organizers are stressing the importance of graduates and new Kindergarten students registering to be part of Ts’udelhti 2020. Two forms – called Graduate student profile and Kindergarten student profile – are posted on the Indigenous Education website and can be filled out by a graduate or parent/guardian. Information on the completed forms will be used to put together a Ts’udelhti 2020 commemorative booklet and will also ensure access to the Ts’udelhti video.

The registration deadline is May 30.

The list of guest speakers for the Ts’udelhti video is still being finalized, and the student who will give the address to fellow graduates and new Kindergartners has not yet been determined. For entertainment, renowned Lheidli T’enneh folk singer Kym Gouchie will perform and so will jingle dress dancer Caitlyn McCarville.

“Kym has been fantastic to work with,” Provencher said. “Before the pandemic hit, she was going to work with the Glee Club from Duchess Park and they were going to do something together, which is really cool. Obviously that can’t happen now so she has been quite gracious and flexible and is still willing to honour our grads and our incoming kids and their families with a song.”

 As for McCarville, a Grade 11 student from Duchess Park Secondary School, the jingle dress dance won’t be her only contribution to the ceremony. She has also taken a keen interest in environmental awareness and will speak on the topic.

 “It’s exciting that she’s willing to do that and honour us in that way,” Provencher said.

 Participants will also receive a gift made by Two Rivers Art Gallery that will incorporate a symbol of Ts’udelhti, a feather logo designed by Pighin. Certificates for pizza will be part of the gift package.

 After the success of the inaugural Ts’udelhti on May 30, 2019, organizers felt it was important to hold this year’s event in one form or another and to have it in June before the official end of the school year.

 “Other provinces are coming back to their classrooms and I imagine in B.C. we’re going to follow suit so there’s that sense of inclusion for our grads, and being part of a school community and the larger community,” Pighin said. “And all the grads haven’t seen each other, I’m sure, so this will be a way for them to celebrate together.”

 Benoit, vice principal academics for Indigenous Education, sees Ts’udelhti as a celebration that benefits youth and the community as a whole.

 “The Ts’udelhti celebration, honouring Indigenous students completing their secondary school journey, provides time to celebrate, to listen to the accomplishments and stories of our youth, and to have family and friends gather to acknowledge the gift of that youth,” Benoit said.

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