Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/6/2020 (483 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Graduating students from Sioux Valley High School, located in Brandon, took their ceremony home this year.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the graduates could not commemorate this important milestone together in their school’s small gym. They opted for an outdoor event, and the powwow arbour at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation proved the perfect spot. After speeches and diploma presentations, the grads climbed onto two floats and travelled through the community with approximately three dozen vehicles following behind, while community members along the route celebrated their successes.
"Having it here in the community, I think that’s good for everyone else to see," said Elicia Taylor, the proud mother of class valedictorian Jude Hotaine.
"And possibly for the younger ones, to encourage them to graduate, too, so they can become part of a day like this. It’s great they came back to the reserve to have their graduation here."
Taylor was so very proud of her son, and said the speech for his class was great.
Hotaine believes classes in the future will choose to hold the same sort of ceremony.
"I’d definitely recommend it," he said.
"Getting out to see the community — everybody gets to celebrate. Everybody was out on the road, on the highway, waving. It was awesome. This is better than what they used to do. They used to have it at the little school. You’re limited to eight people each, as compared to this."
As for his speech, Hotaine said the most important message he had to pass on to his classmates was, "Just be thankful for everything. Keep falling, keep pushing, no matter what. It’s all worth it."
Graduate Brandon Ethan Blacksmith was equally pleased with the event.
"Honestly, my graduation could not have been any better," he said.
"I was hoping our graduation would be a little bit different than everyone else’s. It’s the same every year and I wanted something a little different. Starting the 2020 decade with a pandemic — well, that’s obviously something different."
Blacksmith then added, "Honestly, I’m just feeling great about everything."
He said the slow-down caused by COVID-19 means younger people have more time to think about what they want to do while the world is on hold.
"Trying to make the best out of everything that’s happening."
Pamela Blacksmith, his mother, said she was excited and overwhelmed.
"Just really happy and proud of my son, and the other graduates. It’s really special. It was a beautiful day, perfect day for a grad, out in the sun. A parade and everything. I really enjoyed it," she said.
"The community support they received shows that the leadership and all the organizations we have are very proud of them (the grads). They were all here. They all had really good words. It encourages them and leads them in a positive direction."
Corinne Pratt-Harper, the high school’s guidance counsellor, who provided the opening prayer to kick off the ceremony, said parents have told her the choice of venue was a great idea.
"They would like to see other grads have this experience. The one in Brandon is good, but it doesn’t allow for more family to come. They said it’s open, there’s so much more space and they really enjoyed it."
Each of the 12 grads’ families had a set of bleachers to maintain physical distancing.
After Pratt-Harper’s prayer, each grad was called to sit before the speakers’ platform. They were then asked to circle around the arbour to an honour song by the drum group and Kenny Pratt Sr.
Principal Kevin Nabess acknowledged the class of 2020.
"This is a very exciting time for Sioux Valley Dakota Nation," he said.
"Education is becoming the expected path for many of our youth. Sioux Valley Education (Authority) is producing some awesome young graduates who have many skills to compete in any area they choose, whether it’s post-secondary or going right into the workforce."
Nabess acknowledged both the hard work it took to arrive at this moment and the hard work yet to come.
Representatives from council, Sioux Valley Health and Dakota Tiwahe Services all spoke loving, encouraging, proud words.
Rose Essie of the Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services reminded students of their heritage.
"I would like to encourage you to never forget where you came from. Be mindful you are descendants of very strong ancestors who went through a lot of atrocities and they continued and persevered just as much as you guys have," she said.
"You guys are all warriors, too. That blood flows through you. In times of hardship or stressful times, remember, and be proud of where you come from."
Chanel Noel received the Doris Pratt Dakota Language Academic Award and Autumn Chief received the Governor General’s Academic Medal for the highest grades. While Nabess recognized Chief, the medal has yet to arrive in the mail.
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.