ANTIGONISH: The coordinator for Indigenous student affairs at StFX University says the university now providing all graduating students with degree parchments in Mi’kmaq will honour and recognize that the campus is located in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaw.
“I feel like it’s a powerful act, this is not just for Mi’kmaq people, it’s for all of us because we’re all treaty people on this unceded Mi’kmaq land,” Terena Francis told The Reporter. “Of course we need to honour and recognize the original people of this land, (but) it also highlights our language. We’ve lost so much of our language and we’re trying to revitalize that, and I think it’s a key step and reconcile these relationships.”
During Spring Convocation last month, each graduating member of the StFX Class of 2021 received two parchments, one in the traditional Latin, the other in Mi’kmaq.
“Earlier this year, acting on a recommendation from Terena Francis, our university senate, which is our top academic body, approved the introduction of degree parchment in Mi’kmaq,” president Andy Hakin said. “This is really in respect to our associated treaty relationship with Mi’kmaq people; it also can be viewed as an act of ongoing reconciliation.”
Francis suggested the idea arose from conversations she has had with her students throughout the years.
“Truthfully and respectfully, the Latin language does represent colonization, we don’t expect for your languages to be dismissed, however, we do expect for our Mi’kmaq language to be included,” was a common theme of the conversations she had, she said in a release. “I really believe it is a step towards reconciliation.”
Going forward, all graduates from StFX will receive both parchments.
“It is trying to come to a positive path when it comes to respecting the calls to action of the commission in truth and reconciliation and post-secondary institutions, we have been tasked with trying to take a leadership position in moving forward,” Hakin said. “This is one small step, amongst others we’ve taken with respect to trying to meet up to that commitment.”
Francis said she has a sense of pride in being able to reach a parchment from a university in her language.
“We’re hanging our parchments up in a language that doesn’t reflect who we are and I think it’s a key step towards reconciling our relationship and revitalising our Mi’kmaq community,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re all treaty people, we’re recognizing this at StFX; that alone gives me so much pride, and even to be an employee at StFX, and for them to finally recognize that is amazing.”
According to a release from the university, Elder and linguist Barbara Sylliboy of Eskasoni First Nation translated the parchment into Mi’kmaq, something for which StFX is forever grateful.
“It’s an important step,” Hakin said. “It has to come from an authentic voice.”
The president of the university advised they have had tremendous feedback from their campus community, both locally and afar, about what an important step this is.
“This just goes to show you some of these steps are quite simple, and they have massive value if you’re willing to put your foot on that path, and that’s what happened here,” Hakin said. “It’s a small step, it’s a meaningful step, (and) it underscores when we say the words, we are all treaty people, that we really mean it.”