It was an emotional evening for the graduates of Seven Generations Education Institute last Thursday as the school gave a special award to a recently-deceased student—and created a memorial bursary in her honour.
Sandra Kakeeway was killed in a car accident in Thunder Bay last month. She had been employed as the aboriginal healing and wellness co-ordinator at the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre, as well as working towards her Bachelor of Social Work degree at Carleton University in Ottawa through SGEI.
“She was a very vibrant woman, very dedicated to her studies,” said Melanie Goodchild, a relative of Kakeeway who accepted the award on behalf of her son, Jamie Lawless.
“When we lose someone like Sandra, we try to think of a way to remember them and honour them,” Goodchild continued. “Sandra was a great teacher. Those of you who knew her will never forger her laugh or her sense of humour.”
Kakeeway was awarded the Carleton University Academic Achievement Award posthumously.
“She was indeed an outstanding student,” said Pat Evans, representing Carleton University.
Evans noted Kakeeway’s efforts extended beyond the classroom, and praised her for her “stellar” community work.
The Sandra Kakeeway Memorial Bursary also was created to honour the former student. The winner of the inaugural award was Tina Armstrong, who received her Honours Bachelor of Social Work degree here last Thursday.
“She [Armstrong] also embodies the values that Sandra embodied,” Goodchild told the crowd assembled at the Adventure Inn.
Other new awards presented at the ceremony were the Aboriginal Institutes’ Consortium awards, granted to one student and one instructor.
Carolyn McGinnis, a student in Early Childhood Education, and Tracey Lee, an instructor in the Personal Support Worker program, were the local winners.
The consortium gave the award to one student and one teacher at each of its eight member institutes.
A number of other special awards for both secondary and post-secondary achievements were handed out before the students received their diplomas.
“We’re here to celebrate the sacrifice all of the graduates have endured, whether over the last year or the last five or the last six,” noted Delbert Horton, the CEO for SGEI.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
The event’s guest speaker was Tim Thompson, education co-ordinator for the Chiefs of Ontario.
“The words we use are power,” he advised the graduates. “They motivate change. Use good words and good thoughts to mean well by one another.”
And as future decision-makers, Thompson advised them to look at the big picture.
“Think of the needs of all your people, both now and seven generations into the future,” he remarked. “The decisions we make now are going to affect them.”
Eight students received their Ontario Secondary School diplomas: Erwin Bruyere, Lorrie Fox, Roberta Kabatay, Jason Mainville, Jennifer Mainville, Candace McCabe, Michael McNichol, and Adrian Snowball.
Four received their Personal Support Worker certificate through Sault College: Angela Brown, Douglas Cridland, Jessica Mainville, and Angela Yerxa-Tuesday.
Two received their Diploma of Education through Queen’s University: Aileen Oshie and Michelle Tymkin.
Three received their Bachelor of Education degree through Queen’s University: Sherry Ambridge, Karen Favell, and Verna White.
Another three received their Bachelor of Arts degree, Indigenous Learning Major, through Lakehead University: Sherry Ambridge, Lorna Henry, and Verna White (first class standing).
And a trio also received their Honours Bachelor of Social Work through Carleton University: Tina Armstrong (highest honours), Jacqueline Jourdain (honours), and Garry Kishiqueb (high honours).
Following the presentation of diplomas and degrees, secondary valedictorian Erwin Bruyere and post-secondary valedictorian Tina Armstrong delivered their speeches.
“It’s been a rocky path for me, but I’ve never given up on myself,” Bruyere told the crowd. “Not just as a graduate, but as a father, I understand the importance of obtaining my Grade 12 diploma. . . .
“I hope my daughters will follow in my footsteps.”
Armstrong, meanwhile, talked about her fears of pursuing post-secondary education.
“One of my biggest fears was I’m going to lose who I am and get caught up in the Western world and the Western way of doing things,” she admitted.
“I can never speak enough for [SGEI] or the programs that they offer,” she added. “I was really amazed by that, by the sensitivity they had to our people.”
“I’m so proud to have been a part of Seven Generations, of Carleton University, and what they were able to provide for us,” Armstrong concluded. “I have never been so proud of who we are.”
The ceremony concluded with a blessing and closing prayer by local elder Nancy Jones.
(Fort Frances Times)