Graduation ceremonies are always an exciting, fun and loud event for those who are about to embark on a new journey in life. A day filled with joy and laughter, as graduating students look their best for every flash of every camera.
But there is one element of this ceremony that, especially here in Canada, we need to reconsider – bagpipes.
In 2021, Simon Frasier University in Burnaby, British Columbia, took a big step in their commitment to reconciliation by incorporating the traditional drumming and singing of the Coast Salish community at the start of their convocation ceremony.
The drum is a sacred instrument to Indigenous ceremonies in Canada. Symbolizing the heartbeat of the land, Indigenous people respect the drum as though it were alive with its own spirit.
All across the country we’ve seen and heard pledges that colleges and universities have made towards reconciliation and Indigenizing their schools. Though some of these may be more symbolic than others, it’s safe to say that the majority have begun to walk down the correct path.
After all, Indigenous people do attend these schools, whether you see them or not.
Durham College made an effort last year to include a drum circle at their convocation ceremony. However, they played outside and away from the students on the opening and final day of convocation, with only a few staff and faculty being bothered to go and greet them and listen.
To say it was insulting would be putting it lightly.
Still, the group played and sung beautifully against the strong winds and traffic that surrounded them, even capturing the attention of those walking through downtown.
The college also included a rendition of O’ Canada, sung in part by Akina Shirt, a Cree Nation singer, who made headlines in 2007 for singing the entire national anthem in Cree at a Calgary Flames game.
This version of the anthem was sung starting with Cree, then moved to French and ended in English, which seems fitting, considering the change in stewardship of Turtle island after its colonization.
Given the history Canada has had with banning traditional ceremonies on Indigenous lands, this would be an excellent way forward for not only schools to show a powerful commitment to reconciliation, but the country as a whole in accepting their place at these ceremonies.
Now, this isn’t to say that bagpipes should be removed from every ceremony, because they do have their place at certain ceremonies – but the overuse of them has withered away any and all symbolism that they’re meant to carry at these events.
Durham College has the power and resources to go beyond token gestures of reconciliation and show the college is dedicated to respecting the lands they occupy and the people it was taken from.
It’s time to lead the way on the path of reconciliation and let current and future Indigenous students know the college is and always will be a safe and welcoming space for them.