Photo courtesy of Manfred Joehnck

The First Nations University of Canada is alive with the sights and sounds of a major celebration.

It is a pow wow honouring graduating students, whether it be from high school, from FNUniv or another institution. It is an all-day event, complete with a grand entry, First Nations dancers, singers, drummers, food and entertainment. There are a lot of smiles and a lot to smile about.

Each year, the crowds get bigger and the event gets a little louder. Hundreds of high school grads are taking part. Among them, Scott Collegiate students who have partnered with the university to help out during the pow wow. Shaunice Tapaquon was one of the helpers in previous years. This year, she is a high school grad and was part of the grand entry.

“It is an honour,” she said. “It feels really great to stand there in the middle and be honoured as a graduate from Grade 12 heading into university.”

Megan Barnaby is the first in her family to pursue a post-secondary education. Most of her family never even graduated high school. She says it took a lot of hard work, but it was worth it.

“I’m already registered at the First Nations University and will be taking classes in September, so I’m kind of like the first in my family, and I want to make everybody proud,” she said.

One of the biggest supporters of FNUniv is Cadmus Delorme. He is a former student, then he worked as a student recruiter. Now, he is the chief of the Cowessess First Nation. He wants to inspire others to follow his lead.

“You know what, today is about excellence,” he said. “It’s about showing our future leaders that it is the end of a chapter, but the  next chapter could be university and the impact you are going to make could be as a chief of a First Nation, it could be in health care, it could be in journalism.”

About 2,100 students are graduating from the U of R this week — 187 are Indigenous.

There was also some encouraging news from the provincial auditor this week. Her report found the Aboriginal high school graduation rate in the province has increased from 33 to 42 per cent over the last six years. She called it a step in the right direction.