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Honouring Indigenous graduates at Sir John

Sir John Franklin High School’s Indigenous honour ceremony for graduating students took on a new, outdoor format on June 12 to comply with social distancing requirements.
Graduate Tyson Black stands by the fire after feeding it with tobacco. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Sir John Franklin High School’s Indigenous honour ceremony for graduating students took on a new, outdoor format on June 12 to comply with social distancing requirements.

The “drive-by” event allowed families of the graduates to come and go when they wanted, pose for photos and feed a crackling fire with pouches of tobacco that each family received.

Twenty-five students were registered to attend.

Indigenous leaders and students also performed a drum ceremony by the fire.

“We’ve done Indigenous honour ceremonies for years, but usually it’s done inside the gymnasium,” said Principal Dean MacInnis. “The parents like this because of the flexible structure. The focus is on the kids, not the event.”

Channel Lafferty Piro said he was glad to be graduating.

“I’m working at the Ford dealership now and I plan to work on my apprenticeship in auto mechanics,” he said.

Deneze Nakehk’o came with a large group of family members to celebrate the graduation of his daughter Lucia.

“I’m happy this is going on,” Nakehk’o said. “This whole education system wasn’t designed for Indigenous people so we have to carve our own niches so our young people thrive. It’s a nice opportunity to show their pride through their jewelry and clothes.”

Damien and Shelby Lafond, who are brothers represented their Inuit heritage by wearing Inuit-style clothing at the honour ceremony.

“This is quite rewarding after a long year. I’m grateful we can have these opportunities now after three semesters of dealing with the pandemic,” said Damien. “I’m Inuit, so a lot of this isn’t part of my tradition but I’m happy to be part of the community of Yellowknife and Canada.”

Sir John’s regular graduation ceremony is scheduled for June 24.

Kayden Taylor, left, and Lacey Taylor manage the stoles that were given out to graduates. The stoles are made with moose hide and feature Metis-style fringes, Dene bead work and a back part that hangs down to represent the Inuit-style baby-carrier jacket. Blair McBride/NNSL photo
Channel Lafferty Piro, left, and Principal Dean MacInnis stand by a photo board of the graduating Indigenous students. Blair McBride/NNSL photo
K’a Nakehk’o, left, Jessie Aubin, Melaw Nakehk’o, Deneze Nakehk’o, graduate Lucia Nakehk’o, Heather Nakehk’o, Bez Nakehk’o, Celine Antoine, Ehxea Nakehk’o, Ozzy Nakehk’o and Jim Antoine attend the ceremony to celebrate Lucia’s graduation. Blair McBride/NNSL photo
Former premier Stephen Kakfwi, left, K’a Nakehk’o, Jim Antoine, Deneze Nakehk’o and Ehxea Nakehk’o perform a Dene drum ceremony in front of the fire. Blair McBride/NNSL Photo
Lena Schofield, left, places the stole around the neck of graduate Damien Lafond. Blair McBride/NNSL Photo
Lena Schofield, left, Damien and Shelby Lafond and Ron Lafond honour the graduation of the two brothers. Blair McBride/NNSL Photo
Shawna Lafond, left, Ron Lafond and Damien Lafond watch as Tyson Lafond feeds the fire with tobacco. Blair McBride/NNSL Photo