M’CHIGEENG – A more perfect morning could not have been chosen for the outdoor graduation ceremony at Kenjgewin Teg recently, a day of celebration for the 55 newest graduates from the school’s numerous secondary and post-secondary educational programs.
Craig Fox led an opening drum song as the group entered the ceremony area. Kenjgewin Teg director of post-secondary education and training Beverley Roy served as emcee and began by welcoming elders, family, guests and the graduates.
She then invited Anishinaabemowin specialist Rhonda Hopkins to lead the attendees in the preamble to the Anishinabek Nation’s constitution. Student support counsellor Wayne Trudeau smudged the ceremony area at the same time.
Kenjgewin Teg executive director Stephanie Roy spoke next to offer a congratulatory message to the graduating class, and acknowledged the instructors, faculty and staff who helped the students get to their final goal.
“Graduates, you gave up your valuable time and ensured you were here getting the training so you can get that piece of paper, that credential that says you did it! You earned it, and you are good enough. I hope you always carry that feeling with you,” she said.
“I want you to push yourself to share your talents and gifts and never underestimate the change you can bring to our communities and workplaces. Be the change that makes us proud.”
Following Stephanie Roy’s address, Beverley Roy invited mechanical technician—welder-fitter graduate Dean Hare to the lectern so he could deliver his valedictorian address. Mr. Hare shared a deeply personal story about his own struggles and triumphs as he found his path forward toward the future. His speech is printed at the end of this story.
Mr. Hare received a standing ovation and then dean of pathways Mark Gibeault began presenting Ontario Secondary School Diplomas and Graduation Equivalency Diplomas.
Next, Stephanie Roy returned to the front alongside Canadore College manager of community-based and contract training Judy Manitowabi. The two presented certificates and degrees for the graduates in Kenjgewin Teg’s Canadore partnership programs—adult educator, personal support worker, construction estimator, trades fundamentals, mechanical technician—welder-fitter and early childhood education—Anishinabemowin.
The graduates in the construction estimator program (Shawn Corbiere, Bill Cranston, Elijah Manitowabi, William Moroz, Jacinta Shawanda, Laura Shigwadja, Amber Talbot, David Wilson and Ronald Wouthuis), trades fundamentals program (Preston Eshkawkogan, Tristian McGregor, Niighe McLeod and Terri Roy) and mechanical technician—welder-fitter (James Atkinson, Kaden Cook and Dean Hare) represent the first-ever graduates from Kenjgewin Teg’s new trade school.
The early childhood education—Anishinabemowin cohort was also the first graduating class of its program. This program was launched in partnership with Canadore College three years ago and fuses early childhood education fundamentals with Anishinaabe teachings, values and world views. The graduates were Ernestine Debassige, Tiffany McGregor, Natalie Osawamick-Mishibinijima, Jasmine Roy and Norma Solomon.
“The kids of now and future generations have a right to know who they are and where they come from, and to learn their Anishinaabemowin language,” said Beverley Roy.
Finally, Melanie Francis was recognized for completing the Decolonizing Education program, developed in partnership with Kenjgewin Teg and Wilfred Laurier University.
The remaining graduates celebrated at the ceremony were Drew Burrows, Phil Debruin and Cordell White, Ontario Secondary School Diploma; Alisha LeDain, Graduation Equivalency Diploma; Steven Debassige, Melanie Francis, Wande Kimewon, Lanell Mejaki, William Moroz, Christine Sarbu, Jacinta Shawanda, Gordon Soplet, Shari Sprack, Madeline Wemigwans and William Whitehawk, adult educator (Canadore College); and Jason Forrest, Hailey Paibomsai-McGregor, Gabrielle Parent and Frances Taylor, personal support worker (Canadore College).
Kenjgewin Teg board member Carlene Assinewai presented the Board of Directors’ Award to Phil Debruin.
Caroline Debassige presented the Kim Corbiere Mino Bmaadziwin Memorial Award to Jasmine Roy; Beverley Roy noted the new medicine garden is also named in Ms. Corbiere’s honour.
The Charles Shawanda Memorial Award was presented by William Moroz to Cordell White, and the new-for-2019 Lloyd Debassige Memorial Award was presented to Dean Hare by Bill Debassige.
The Lewis (‘Luigi’) Debassige Memorial Award went to Niighe McLeod and was presented by Sam Manitowabi, Lewis’ nephew.
Finally, the Indigenous Institutes Consortium Award, presented by traditional knowledge holder Gordon Waindubence, went to Norma Solomon in the student category and Mark Volpini in the instructor category.
Beverley Roy thanked Brian Bisson for his work in planning the graduation for the past 15 years and Natasha Abotossaway presented him with a small gift on behalf of the grad committee.
Beverley Roy offered a final message to the graduates before the event closed: “have the courage to go first. And then, light a fire so your Anishinabek Nation can follow you.”
Mr. Fox brought the ceremony to a conclusion with an honour song and then a travelling song.
Dean Hare’s valedictorian speech is printed below:
“Aanii everyone, welcome to our graduation; I am Dean Hare.
“Over the years I have worked in several employment fields. I have worked through traditional programs as a medicinal harvester, in a daycare as an early childhood educator assistant, as security for our windfarm project and for my wife’s father in the heating, cooling and ventilation industry. I even attended the University of Guelph/Kemptville College to obtain my oil burner technician certificates. A few years back while on the job I sustained an injury I ignored; it progressed into an injury that left me in a lot of pain and some days not being able to get out of bed. I ended up no longer being able to work. As my physical ability worsened so did my mental and emotional state—I became weak and lost my way. For many years, I struggled with my purpose. My wife and family now left to look after me, pay the bills and do it all on their own as I sat there and watched. Thankfully over the last 13 years, with a lot of hard work and determination, through physiotherapy and traditional medicinal use, patience and the love and support of my family and friends and my involvement and dedication to coaching various sports teams, has helped me find my way and look forward to my next adventure, my new path in life. Starting over at 40 years old isn’t impossible.
“As I was looking towards my future, I heard about the programs being offered at KTEI and only heard what a great, healthy environment to learn in KTEI was. It was something I needed to help me start over, get back on my feet, have a purpose, be the father, husband, person I once was. I decided to look further into the program details and discovered that in the fall of 2018 KTEI would be offering the technical trades welding/pipefitter program. Being that I love working hands-on and creating and building things, I thought, ‘why not go back to school, why not further my education?’ That is what brought me to KTEI, and what an awesome decision it was. KTEI and the welding/pipefitter program fits me and where I am in my life today. It has been a great, healthy, and positive environment to learn in, not only learning but exploring my culture and getting back to my roots is a bonus.
“Today, I have successfully completed my mechanical techniques welding/pipefitter program and I have obtained a full apprenticeship at Henley Boat Manufacturers. My message to all is that we all have opportunities right here in front of us. Seize the moment to improve and make your lives better, for yourselves and your families. You are never too old or too broken to start over, to achieve goals, to have dreams and make them happen. Today we have achieved many different things; today gives me a sense of pride and hope for the future for me, my family and our dreams. My journey was a success and my path to get here was an unbelievable experience, one I will never forget and be forever grateful for.
“I leave here today full of pride and emotion. I will lead by your example, I will achieve and be a leader where ever my new path takes me. I will be the best me, I will strive to bring the best out in those surrounding me, praise their strengths, support their weaknesses, guide them to success, help them achieve. Miigwech to KTEI for giving us this opportunity, for your continued support and guiding me down this path every step of the way. I see clearly now, I have my sense of purpose back, my spirit is up, and my wings are spread. I can fly again and I will soar.
“Congratulations to the graduating class of 2019!”