Campus Life  

College convocation centers Indigenous culture, protocol

Richard Jackson Junior, from Lower Nicola Indian Band, carries the Eagle Staff at the Kelowna campus convocation on June 10, 2023

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, Okanagan College reflects on its commitments to reconciliation and the rich history, diverse cultures and significant contributions of Indigenous peoples.

“While we still have work to do, this has been a meaningful year for Okanagan College’s journey toward reconciliation,” says Rhea Dupuis, Associate Director of Indigenization at the College. “For the first time, communities came together at each of our four college campuses to celebrate graduates, where ceremonies centered around Indigenous protocol.”

June marks the first time that Okanagan College has held commencement and convocation ceremonies at every campus, including in Penticton, Kelowna, and Vernon – the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation – and in Salmon Arm, the traditional and unceded territory of the Secwépemc Nation. Organizing five convocation ceremonies in four different communities created a unique opportunity to honour and celebrate Indigenous cultures, traditions and protocols.

“It was so special to see the Eagle Staff drummed into the ceremonies with an Honour Song, hear welcoming remarks from Elders,and hear traditional songs that welcomed and honoured graduates,” adds Dupuis. “The ceremonial Eagle Staff plays a prominent role in our commencement and convocation ceremonies, representing all nations gathering in unity to celebrate, and we’re grateful to our partners and community members who helped ensure the ceremonies were done in a good way.”

While Indigenous ways of knowing were woven into each ceremony, for the second year, Indigenous graduates who crossed the stage received special convocation stoles designed by Syilx Okanagan and Secwepemc knowledge keeper and artist, Les Louis. Embroidered on the stoles are Syilx and Secwepemc pictographs of a canoe family and three eagles.

According to the most recent statistics available at Okanagan College, in 2021-22, 1,668 Indigenous students enrolled in educational programming at the College, representing 10.8 per cent of the domestic student population. Students have access to culturally relevant resources and programming at Indigenous Services Centres located at each of the College’s four campuses, including in Vernon, Salmon Arm, Penticton and Kelowna.

The College encourages students, staff, faculty and the broader community to honour National Indigenous Peoples Day by considering attending a local event, supporting a local Indigenous business and taking time for individual reflection.

More information about Indigenous initiatives at Okanagan College can be found at okanagan.bc.ca/indigenization.

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