Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Murray Sinclair wants aboriginal grads to celebrate successes

CBC News

The head of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission wants indigenous university graduates across the country, or their friends and loved ones, to flood his Facebook page with accomplishments.

Justice Murray Sinclair, who is also Manitoba's first aboriginal judge, is asking people to post Facebook pictures and stories of university graduations and other achievements.

Sinclair says he wants to change people's attitudes about education and make aboriginal Canadians proud of their everyday accomplishments.

"I just finished reading a blog by [CBC reporter] Duncan McCue about how aboriginal people are portrayed in the media. One of the comments he made was the four 'Ds' are applicable: drumming, dancing, dead or drunk,” Sinclair said in an interview Wednesday.

That prompted Sinclair to post the following call-out on Facebook for photographs and a line or two about the accomplishments for aboriginal people: "Everyone who has a University graduate in the family or who's a friend this year post an announcement. If you graduated post an announcement. And lots of pics. Let's make ourselves proud."

While Sinclair lauds the efforts of the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, he said the First Nations community needs to do more.

"We're only honouring 14 people [through the aboriginal awards] and there are so many people we don't honour through events like that,” he said.

“I thought, 'Well, it's about time that we made some kind of a public show of those people who are achieving things on an everyday basis and what they're doing.’"

Graduation rates for aboriginal students are still lagging behind when it comes to post-secondary education but that's no reason to be silent, he said.

"I'm a bit tilted by the experience of having to listen to residential school stories for so long now, that there is so much sadness over the past and and education, I want people to recognize that education's a good thing," he said.

"Many of them are people who quietly achieve those things and then go about their daily lives and we don't acknowledge it, and I think we need to acknowledge it."

Inspiring others

Among the numerous comments and photographs that have appeared in response to Sinclair's call is a post about Travis Bighetty, who maintained straight As through his bachelor of social work program. He's going for his master's degree after he graduates this fall.

"I never thought about how it's going to inspire my friends," Bighetty told CBC News on Wednesday.

Fred Shore, a native studies professor at the University of Manitoba, said things have changed for aboriginal post-secondary students and graduates over the years.

"I remember when I graduated with my PhD, there were very few aboriginal people either in the crowd or on the stage," he said.

Shore said Sinclair's post is important for reaching students who might have otherwise thought a university education is out of their reach.

"They see something like that and think, 'Wow, we can do it,'" he said. "Not only can we do it, we've done it."

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