SAGE: Empowering Indigenous Graduate Students
By Dhanela Paran
Right now, there are over 400 Indigenous students studying at the University of Toronto, and about 45 of them are in graduate programs. While this is an achievement, Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement (SAGE) is always trying to increase that number.
We do this by working to expand the network of Indigenous scholars across the University and by providing programming and support for Indigenous graduate students. As a student-led group, we can share resources, support one another throughout our educational journey and ensure that our members are thriving on campus.
A Safe Space
One of the most important part of SAGE’s mandate is to provide a safe space for students to connect. Because we operate out of the Centre for Indigenous Studies, we host many of our events in the Turtle Lounge, a space filled with Indigenous artwork and the perfect gathering place.
Each week, SAGE members come to the Turtle Lounge for a beading circle, where they learn techniques from Indigenous artists. It’s an opportunity for students to share and discuss their experiences, ideas and challenges – all while engaging in a culturally significant act.
We also plan events that are designed to enrich the educational, cultural and spiritual lives of SAGE members. On March 6th, we held our annual Indigenous Research Student Symposium. A partnership with the Indigenous Education Network (IEN), this half-day event brought together people from across Canada with a diverse range of knowledge.
It was wonderful to see so many in attendance and watch students and scholars building connections and supporting each other’s work. Bonnie Jane Maracle, a speaker at the symposium, explained that we must take advantage of every opportunity to gather together. She spoke about the power of sharing knowledge and research and stressed the importance of interacting with community. I’m grateful that Bonnie captured the significance of the day so beautifully.
A Drum Social with CKQ
March was a busy month. Just a couple of weeks after the symposium, we partnered with Ciimaan/Kahuwe’yá/Qajaq (CKQ) to host a drum social. CKQ is an initiative run by the Centre for Indigenous Studies that’s dedicated to furthering Indigenous language education. The events that CKQ hosts are always unique and creative and we were extremely excited to partner with them. Elder Ernie Sandy opened the event with a prayer and smudge, and Eagle Heart Big Drum and Marie Gaudet also joined us.
In March 2017, SAGE held a writing retreat at the Hyatt Park here in downtown Toronto. The two-day experience included the support, ceremonies and teachings of Bonnie Jane Maracle and Ernie Sandy. In addition to these teachings, the retreat was also about peers supporting and motivating one another and having conversations in a space safe for personal expression. The process of gathering together with students, elders and teachers, sharing our feelings in a circle and dialoguing over food has contributed to our holistic wellbeing and will certainly influence our collective writing and research process.
To wrap up the year, SAGE co-hosted the second annual Graduate Celebration with First Nations House. The event honoured and recognized Indigenous graduate students by marking their commitment to and successful completion of their studies. The event welcomed all graduating students, families, peers, elders, faculty/staff and community members, and we hope it was a source of motivation and encouragement for future undergraduate students to pursue graduate studies.
Congratulations to all the graduates, their families and their communities. Chi Miigwetch to all the staff, helpers and volunteers who continue to build on the special tradition of the Indigenous graduation ceremony each year!
As a group dedicated to enrichening the lives of Indigenous graduate students, we’re always looking to add to our membership. If you’re interested in a joining SAGE or attending an event and would like more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.