Posted on June 1, 2010 by Tia Lalani

Seven Aboriginal graduates were offered an Eagle Feather during Convocation Ceremonies at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus this spring.

By Petra Cegielny –

On May 30th, 2010, the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta held its third Eagle Feather Ceremony during Spring Convocation.

To be given an Eagle Feather is considered to be the highest honour that can be awarded within Aboriginal cultures. During official University Convocation Ceremonies, the Augustana Campus honours the academic accomplishments of graduating Aboriginal students by presenting an Eagle Feather to those who elect to participate. This year, seven First Nation and Métis students were awarded an Eagle Feather by Augustana alumnus Elder John Crier of the Samson Cree Nation.

“I feel very honoured to be able to receive this prestigious gift,” says Nicholas Howells of Cremona, Alberta, the first Bachelor of Music graduate at Augustana to receive an Eagle Feather at Convocation. “Over the last year I have been writing music based on my Métis heritage and so have spent much time trying to gather as much information about my ancestors as I can. This has been a very powerful experience of self-discovery and I am feeling very humbled that I will receive the Eagle Feather.”

Looking back, Nicholas’ most memorable experience at Augustana was his third-year recital. “I was able to learn and perform one of my favourite pieces, “says Nicholas. “It was an exhilarating experience, which came after many hours of mentoring from my instructors and even more hours of practice.” Nicholas describes his time at Augustana as a great experience. “Being that it is such a small campus, I was able to form many close relationships with peers and instructors. The skills that I developed while attending Augustana really set me up to do the things that I want to do with my life.”

For Kyla Kotchea, time at Augustana has kept her “surrounded by good friends and new adventures,” and gave her “a new view on life and new opportunities.” Kyla, who is originally from Fort Nelson, British Columbia, is the first Dene student and Bachelor of Science graduate at Augustana to receive an Eagle Feather at Convocation. “Receiving an Eagle Feather means a lot,” says Kyla. “In my culture you only receive one when it is given to you or if you find one yourself – both of which are very rare. I feel immensely honored at this opportunity.”

One of Kyla’s most memorable university experiences was participating in a Conservation Biology Course which included a trip to Costa Rica. “It was an awesome experience! The crazy monkeys throwing things at you, interacting with some of the students, and netting bats was all fun. But I did develop a new level of dislike for ants! They seemed to follow me everywhere!” Looking forward to her future, Kyla plans to put her experience and Bachelor of Science degree to good use in a career working with animals.

Felicity Collins graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and considers her time at Augustana a learning experience. “Augustana helped me grow as an individual, learn more about myself and gain a sense of independence,” she says. Felicity, who is a member of Alberta’s Kehewin Cree Nation, recounts some of her favourite memories of Augustana to include meeting and hearing Susan Aglukark, Asani and the Arrogant Worms.

Felicity was involved with Augustana’s Aboriginal Students Office since its inception in 2007. She helped bring about a variety of campus events such as our annual Fry Bread Gatherings and this year’s International Week Hand Games Tournament. In addition to sharing her knowledge of Cree culture on campus, Felicity also volunteered and worked with a number of organizations throughout the Camrose community. Her interest in sharing and celebrating her culture has helped Augustana and Camrose to better understand and celebrate diversity. Felicity admits she’ll feel a roller coaster of emotions crossing the stage at Convocation and her advice to new students heading to university is: “Don’t be afraid to be yourself.”

For Métis student Bradley Tillapaugh, crossing the stage at Convocation will also cause mixed emotions of excitement and sadness. “The excitement will be caused by all the hard work that I put in to get this far and reach a new chapter in my life” says Bradley. “However, I will also be sad that I will not have the opportunity to return to such a great campus.”

Originally from Ashmont, Alberta, Bradley played for the Augustana Vikings Men’s Volleyball Team in 2007-08 and 2008-09. “Winning volleyball Westerns two years in a row was a highlight for me,” says Bradley. “Being part of such a memorable team was a great experience. I also enjoyed all my classes and that was due to the amazing profs that are found throughout Augustana.” Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Physical Education and History, Bradley plans to take a year off to travel before returning to the U of A’s Edmonton Campus to focus on his next degree: a Bachelor of Education.

Participating in the Augustana in Cuba program is what Métis student Danielle Fostey finds most memorable about her time at Augustana. “I lived in Cuba for four months with a group of students and Dr. Sandra Rein,” says Danielle. “I not only got to attend a Cuban university but I was also granted the opportunity to immerse myself in Cuban culture to learn Spanish. Living in Cuba was not only educational but also fun. Probably one of my favorite activities was eating fresh mangos on the beach – it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Danielle, originally from the community of St. Paul, Alberta, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and is the first student at Augustana to graduate with Distinction and receive an Eagle Feather at Convocation. She will attend law school at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario this September. Danielle says she’ll feel happiness and pride crossing the stage. “I am finally graduating and one step closer to achieving my dream of becoming a lawyer.” However, she also admits she will feel some sadness.

“I will miss being a student at Augustana,” says Danielle, “and I will miss the community I have found here. Overall, walking across the stage will be bittersweet but I know I am ready for it.”

For Danielle, receiving an Eagle Feather is a way for her to honour her background and ancestry: “I feel lucky to be able to celebrate my Métis heritage and I look at the Eagle Feather as a way to celebrate my great grandmother, a woman who suffered because of her Aboriginal heritage, and redeem her identity as a First Nations woman. It also feels like I am being handed down a very important message that I need to encourage others to learn. It is a big responsibility.”

Augustana’s Aboriginal Students Office would like to congratulate Nicholas, Kyla, Felicity, Bradley, Danielle as well as Kristopher Statnyk and Amber Hill on their graduation. We wish them continued success as they continue on their path of life-long learning.

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