I am so very proud of all the Northern graduates getting through the school year during these trying times, but I have to say that I am especially proud of my son. It means so much that he made it through to the finish line. Graduating as an Indigenous student is especially significant because graduation rates across the country are lowest among Indigenous populations, a direct result of residential school trauma that has set off a deep distrust among surviving parents when it comes to having to place their children in educational institutions. One way to rectify this problem is to hire Indigenous teachers in our schools so that young people can see themselves in every aspect of their learning.
Despite the additional hurtles many Indigenous students face every day, those that made it all the way to graduation have played the game and won. They have remarkably overcome the barriers that the colonial system has suppressed upon them.
As a single mother, working and going to school myself, it would have been much easier to let my son to skip school then to try to get him up in the morning everyday. But with a little help from the banging of the drum in his ear, he got up, dressed up and showed up. I tried to convey in him every step of the way through my actions and my words that is important to look at the bigger picture and not just the day to day.
My son’s graduation is important because he has broken a generational cycle. He is the first person to graduate from high school in our family.
I didn’t graduate high school. I dropped out in Grade Nine and struggled to attend night school. As an annoying result, even though I am a writer, I’m not as familiar as I would like to be with grammar. I don’t know advanced math without a calculator. The only thing I excelled at in high school was typing class which has proven to be useful.
I stopped going to school partly because I didn’t have that one teacher who cared. I felt very lonely walking the halls of my high school. Even just walking from the classroom to my locker by myself was an anxiety ridden event because most of my friends were skipping school.
I had to go around the long way to get an educated and I didn’t want that for my son. I knew from experience how important education is. Education has lifted our family out of poverty.
Northern Indigenous students have access to paid government funds for up to six years. They can go into any field they desire. This money is just sitting there waiting to be used up. Not to mention the amount of grant and scholarship funds are out there for Indigenous students.
If there’s one piece of advice, I can give to graduates it would be not to wait. Apply to college on the heels of graduation. Even if you are not sure what you want to do with your life, at least you won’t be standing in one place. You will be moving towards something. Even if you think you might not get in it is still worth a try. I didn’t think I was going to get into law school. In fact, I did not do well at all on my LSAT test but I still tried. I And even if you change your mind about what career you want, you can always switch gears and do something else.
Way before my days in law school, I enrolled myself into nursing at Aurora College. Halfway through year one I realized that nursing wasn’t for me. I wasn’t going to be able to stick a needle in anyone’s arm. Then I did online university which was hard because it was self-disciplined. I went on to take a course in aesthetics and ended up having to scrub feet for a living. When I realized I wasn’t passionate about pedicures I went back to school again. I took a course to be a social worker but then got pregnant with my daughter and worked as a receptionist.
I can’t remember all the different types of jobs I’ve had in between going to school. I was a security guard for a short time, which I was terrible at because I was scared to walk back alleys and parking lots in the city at night. I was a home care provider looking after other peoples loved ones with disabilities. I worked as a waitress but was fired for forgetting food orders. Then I worked for my First Nation as a justice coordinator and finally found my niche, something I was good at. Yet it took me having to go through several different career paths to learn that I had an aptitude for writing and a hunger for justice.
My son graduating is not only about the rolled-up piece of paper and a professional photo framed on the wall of him in a cap and gown. Its about the fact that he is now in a position to be able to make changes in the system that fails so many of our Indigenous peoples everyday. His resistance has helped to break down the stigma and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples that have been in existence for far too long. He and many other Indigenous graduates are proving the system wrong and more importantly proving to themselves that they can do anything. So congratulations to all the Northern Indigenous graduates.
We see you, we hear you and we are rooting for you to go far.