As Theresa Kakwfi accepted her Bachelor of Education (BEd.) degree at last week’s graduation ceremony in Fort Smith, she incorporated her culture into her robe, woven into a V-stole personalized with her own beaded designs.
For the first time, Aurora College’s Thebacha campus invited its graduating students to sew their own stoles to wear at convocation, adding a traditional element to a modern-day milestone.
“Completing my education is a big step for me,” said Kakwfi, who calls the small hamlet of Colville Lake home. “The stoles look nice and it’s part of our tradition to make stuff for ourselves, especially for big celebrations. This is something that I can contribute to celebrate my own success.”
About 12 students took advantage of the new beading project, which is set to become an annual tradition available to any graduate who shows interest. Each stole is decorated to match the individual student’s identity.
“I wanted to have a little piece of home with me because it’s so far away,” said Priscilla Haogak, another BEd. graduate, who hails from the far North. “Sachs Harbour is the furthest northern community in the NWT and I’m studying in the most southern community in the NWT. My heart is at home; I’ve had a lot of community support from home.”
Basic stroud, beads and threads were provided for the students, who were also welcome to incorporate their own supplies into the piece.
“Instead of beads I chose to do seal skin with seal skin inlays,” Haogak said, noting she received the black and white fur from her mother and from teachers at the college.
“I was never a really good beader so I just figured the seal skin would suit my style a little bit better. My stole has my last name on it; it was my grandfather’s traditional Inuvialuktun name so that has a lot of significance. Not a lot of people in my family have gotten their education, so I just wanted to help celebrate that with my family,” she said. “It also has polar bears and ulus to represent the people that are closest to me and helped me come this far, because it’s been a long, hard journey. On the back of the stole there is the Banks Island and I put a little bead at the bottom, the southern tip of it, to represent Sachs.”
Like the rest of their peers, the sewers had to make time for the project within their busy schedules, often taking moments between homework, classes, employment and family time to sew a few stitches. They were welcome to sew in weekly beading circles held at the school, or to take their pieces home to work in solitude.
“I started mine in January,” said Joanne Francis, another BEd. student from Fort McPherson. “With all the homework and studying and everything, I completed it a week before convocation.”
Francis, with the help of her sister-in-law, carefully pieced together her project bit by bit.
“Everything on my stole represents something,” she said. “I have the (mortarboard) hat and the diploma. I have eight flowers and each flower has a representation of something. There’s seven of us from the Beaufort Delta who will obtain a diploma; each flower represents one of them. There’s an extra flower to represent everybody that supported me.”
More than just a decoration to wear at the ceremony, the stoles are keepsakes that serve to remind the students of how much they can accomplish when they set their minds on a goal.
“It’s traditional, it ties in with our education and each one of us, I think, has something that is represented from home,” Francis said. “We’re not all from Fort Smith so it was nice to have something close to us.”