by John Copley
(ANNews) – Amiskwaciy Academy celebrated the achievements of the 14 students who make up the school’s 2018 Graduating Class during a celebration that got underway in the nearby Edmonton Inn’s Wild Room Room at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 7. The graduates, many of whom have attended the Kingsway Avenue-based school for more than five years, include Alaura Fraynn, Kimiwan Bigstone, Thomas Brett, Nicholas Herman, Anthony Bull, Trey Hinton-Willier, Tristan Keshane, Hannah Cardinal, Rayna Checkosis, Dre Monias, Austin Contois-Crane, Shae-Lynn Tuccaro and Kira Currie.
Master of Ceremonies Emile Milne, also an Assistant Professor at MacEwan University, got the afternoon underway when she called on the drummers to initiate the march of the Grand Entry, which was led by Elder Don Langford, followed closely by EPSB Trustee Shelagh Dunn, graduation ceremony Keynote Speaker, Aaron Paquette, EPS Inspector Graham Hogg, Elder Jeanette Lean, EPSB Assistant Superintendent Kent Pharis and many others.
Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, accompanied by fellow Elders Jeanette Lean, Leith Campbell and Donald Langford, opened the event with a welcoming address, words of wisdom for both the graduating students and those attending the celebration, an opening prayer and some words of appreciation for all the support the Academy receives from the parents, the school’s many community partners, the EPSB and “the Elders, teachers and support staff that I work with here at Amiskwaciy.”
After several upbeat songs from the visiting choir, Kokopelli, School Trustee Shelagh Dunn brought greetings from the EPSB.
“It is an honour to be here today to share in this celebration with the graduating students, parents, Amiskwaciy staff, teachers, special guests, Elders and my fellow colleagues with the Edmonton Public School Board,” stated Dunn. “It was clear to me when I entered the school today and looked around this room that you are surrounded by love and caring. The Board of Trustees at EPSB has also been silently cheering you on throughout your high school journey. That journey to learning, however, is not over; no matter what you do when you leave Amiskwaciy, there will still be much to learn.”
She spoke to the students about embracing life and talked about the importance of using every minute in a positive and meaningful way. Congratulating the graduates for the years they’ve dedicated to scholastic achievement, Dunn said she was “honoured to be here today with you at Amiskwaciy, a school that has passed on so many important teachings. I know you have learned important things in Math and Science and Social Studies but I also know you are leaving the school with sacred teachings from the Elders and cultural teaching and knowledge of Indigenous history and culture. These teachings will not reshape the way you move forward in this world, they will shape the world and you will shape the world just by walking out into it.”
Donald Langford, Executive Director of Métis Child and Family Services is an off-campus Elder and long-time supporter of Amiskwaciy Academy. He addressed the gathering, offered congratulations to the graduates and noted that, “the road that has brought you to this point in your journey hasn’t been easy; it’s had some ruts in it but it’s also had some smooth sailing. That’s the way life is and that’s why you have to get up each day with a smile and good attitude so you can move positively and meaningfully into the future. When you have doubts, just stand up and look in the mirror and you can usually find the answer you need to take that next positive step.”
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen told the students, staff and visitors that on behalf of the Government of Alberta and Premier Rachel Notley, ”I just wanted to thank you and let you know how very grateful I am to bring congratulations to the graduating class of 2018 here at Amiskwaciy school. I’ve been coming to Amiskwaciy for the past eight or more years and have learned so much about First Nation and Métis culture, but also the spirit of community that helped to build this school and how strong it makes us all to live and learn in the spirit community and cooperation.”
The Minister said that it was a “clever idea and good decision by Edmonton Public Schools to offer alternate programming to bring kids together from all over, from Edmonton and from other places as well. When you look across at the graduates here today you know that these are people you will have a connection with for the rest of your lives. The best thing you can do is carry on that connection, build on those friendships you’ve made here – we are all stronger when we stick together. Take a look at everybody around you here today, look after each other and you will do very well.
“As the Education Minister I go to a lot of schools and you quickly recognize success when you see it. As soon as you pass through the doors of Amiskwaciy you know there is something special going on there. It has a lot to do with staff who nourish the atmosphere with love and care and attention. The entire staff – the custodians, office staff, teachers, principal, Elders – they all work together to ensure that a school is successful. Congratulations – and please give a large round of applause for them.”
Principal Fred Hines took to the podium and before delivering a special message, acknowledged and thanked all of the supporters, inside and outside the school, who have helped to make his eight years at the Amiskwaciy a pleasurable and memorable experience. Delivering the graduating students a message that will give them a head start after leaving the Academy, Principal Hines told a story about the Canadian goose and how we can learn some of life’s lessons just by watching it.
“When geese fly south for the winter or north in the spring they do so in a pattern,” he noted. “They form a “V” and in doing so give themselves a 71 per cent greater flying range. If we have the sense of a goose we can also stay in formation, moving forward with purpose and direction.
“When the goose gets tired he begins to fall back and the next one in line moves up to take its place. If we have the sense of a goose we relieve one another instead of leaving the heavy work to only one person.
“When a goose is injured by gunshot or falls back from illness other geese fall back with him to help ensure he survives. Only when he dies do they leave to join their own or another formation. If we are as smart as a goose, we will always stand by one another.”
Principal Hines also spoke about his years with Edmonton Public Schools and about the occasional times he was required to be in the district office. He told the gathering that he’d received a great deal of help from one particular woman, Gloria Chalmers (now retired) and then introduced her to the onlookers before Elders Langford and Campbell presented her with a beautiful Honour Blanket in acknowledgement for her ongoing community support of Amiskwaciy Academy.
Edmonton Councillor for Ward 4, Aaron Paquette, offered a keynote address that enlightened, inspired and gave food for thought to the graduates about to embark on a new phase in life.
“Congratulations on an incredible accomplishment; this is the culmination of years of effort and you deserve this day,” emphasized Paquette. “The best way to celebrate is to remember this day, savour this moment because it is important. Our lives are made up of moments and they go by do very fast. In the coming weeks and months, I encourage you to reflect on what you’ve learned in life so far. Much of it has been facts and figures – but though you may not realize it now, those facts and figures will serve you well throughout your entire life.”
His messages to the students were important ones as he encouraged them to persevere through good times and bad, to develop positive relationships, to believe in oneself, to carry on even though there are moments you want to quit.
“Always remember that someone loves you; someone is proud of you, and today we are all proud of you. I mention this because life can seem lonely at times and there may have been and there may yet be those long lonely dark nights of the soul in your life where you feel misunderstood, under-appreciated, unloved and alone. I’m here to tell you that this will never be true. Don’t believe in false sorrow that slips from the shadows; life is an incredible adventure and it’s always waiting for you. This doesn’t mean life isn’t hard because it is. It doesn’t mean that life won’t sometimes be dull or boring because it is. This doesn’t mean that life isn’t going to throw you curveballs and ruin your best laid plans, because it will and that’s exactly what makes life worth living.”
He told the students life isn’t about “doing something great to be great, it’s about doing something that lifts up the lives of others; there is no greater thing you can do than make some else feel good because that’s who our heroes are and those are the people that make the biggest difference.”
A number of graduates were also recipients of various community presentations and awards. The Academy’s Helping Hands Award was presented to Anthony Bull; the Governor General’s Academic Medal of Achievement was presented to Kira Currie for her outstanding grades. The Royal Glenora Rotarian Award of $1,000 (each) was presented to Hanna Cardinal, Trey Hinton-Willer and Dre Monias, while Trey Hilton-Willier and Dre Monias each received $500 as recipients of the Marie Johnson Bissell Centre Scholarship Award.
In his closing remarks Principal Hines told the 2018 graduates “to please know that you represent the pride of the school and your Aboriginal community. Amiskwaciy Academy, its teachers, support staff, and administration acknowledge the hard work and difficulties that you have taken on in order to become part of our school’s distinguished list of graduates. From this day forward please know that our doors are always open to you We hope that you will consider Amiskwaciy Academy as a part of your family and allow us to share in your future success. I wish you all the best on your journey.”
An excellent and very tasty dinner was provided by the Edmonton Inn kitchen and its staff. Entertainment was provided by the Métis Child and Family Jiggers and Dancers, Kokopelli and the Amiskwaciy Drummers.