PIKANGIKUM FIRST NATION — A record-high number of graduates celebrated their educational milestones in Pikangikum on Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pikangikum First Nation community gathered at Eenchokay Birchstick School to witness the highest recorded number of graduates within the community to date.
During the Eenchokay Birchstick School graduation ceremony, 20 high school-aged students and 21 adults in the Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition program crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
“I think the whole community is very pleased with the outcome and happy to see their family members moving forward to make accomplishments,” said principal Cindy Spence, referring to the high number of graduates this year.
Among the school’s many accomplishments, Spence highlighted the community’s resilience in keeping their language.
Spence said that being a second-generation residential school survivor from Manitoba, her ability to speak Anishinaabemowin has been lost.
“This community, since I've been in, I consider the people as language keepers for Ojibwa language,” said Spence.
Spence explains that students are taught both in Anishinaabemowin and English from junior kindergarten to Grade 12.
“I wasn't given that opportunity during my lifetime to be raised in an immersion environment, which is what I see here,” Spence said.
Spence said a focus on career preparation was a top priority.
“It's been a big focus of the school this year to work with the students on outlining pathways. We spent a lot of time talking to them about career options. We sent them out to different universities and colleges to go explore opportunities,” Spence said.
Spence explains that the school held workshops to help students prepare for life after high school including volunteer work experience within the community and the school, wellness workshops, and budgeting for college and university.
Geraldine Peters, a Prior Learning and Assessment Recognition program student, saw her daughter, Lakota Peters, cross the stage to get her diploma. Moments later, she also received hers.
As Geraldine exited the stage, the two embraced triumphantly, recognizing their hard work having paid off in one moment they shared.
“I watched her work very hard, like I've seen her work long hours and then do her PLAR work packages, and I'm just very happy to see her graduate today,” said Lakota.
The majority of the PLAR program is done independently at home, and watching her mom work on her assignments inspired Lakota toward her goal to graduate.
“She worked pretty hard," Geraldine said about her daughter. “She had her struggles during the high school years, and that's why I'm so proud of her that she was able to accomplish this.”
From here, both will be moving on to post-secondary studies. Geraldine said she plans to go to University to complete a degree in social work.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lakota will be studying in the social services worker program at the college level. She'll be attending Oshki-Pimache-O-Win:The Wenjack Education Institute.
Denzel Quill was nominated as Eenchokay Birchstick school valedictorian. His emotional speech recalled the joyful memories and hardships of the community.
“We have overcome countless obstacles and faced numerous challenges such as the school closing due to COVID, the stressful online classes and the self-isolation we as students have gone through. But all that doesn't matter,” Quill said during his speech.
Whether it was creating everlasting bonds and sharing hopes and dreams of life after high school, Quill’s memories of the friendships will live with him into the future.
“Now as today, we have emerged victorious, we have earned the right to celebrate our achievements and look forward to a bright future that awaits us. As I reflect on our time together, we come from different experiences. Yet we have united under a common purpose,” said Quill.
Quill will be going to attend college in Manitoba in the fall where he’ll be pursuing his passion for professional photography.
“I was just bored one evening and I was just snooping around the living room, and I see a camera. It was my parents' wedding camera actually," he said.
"So I wanted to go play around with it outside. I was messing around with the settings with the aperture settings, the shutter speed, aperture and iso, and the first photo I took on that camera was a single flower. To me, it just like it just looked good in general and looked better than the phone cameras.”
Quill plans on returning to Pikangikum and opening a photography studio after college. One future ambition he hopes to accomplish is to create yearbooks for the Eenchokay Birchstick School.