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Indigenous seniors celebrate with third annual graduation

Indigenous seniors celebrate with third annual graduationIndigenous students from across the district celebrated with family and friends at the Third Annual Indigenous Graduate Celebration, which included families from more than twenty nations.

The Drifting Bull Drum Group (Dakota) opened the graduation with an honoring song while the graduating seniors were led into the ceremony by eagle staff carrier DJ Birdbear, an Indigenous Parent Action Committee (IPAC) member. Dr. Aspen Rendon, partner in the office of Equity, Culture, and Community Engagement, and Jeffrey Chavez, Indigenous and Native Student and Community Liaison, welcomed the group and were the educators of ceremony for the event. 

Doug Good Feather, an elder of the Hunkpapa Lakota, offered the prayer and land acknowledgement and shared words of encouragement with the graduates. “We look to you now to be the change for the nation,” said Good Feather. “So stand strong, remember that, take on those responsibilities. Don’t be afraid. Because our people did it, and that’s why we’re here today.” 

Indigenous seniors celebrate with third annual graduationStudents also heard from Zyola Moanali’ a T. Mix, an IPAC parent, who welcomed the graduates and introduced the student group who performed the Oli Aloha and the Oli Mahalo, both Native Hawaiian chants. “This is the Oli we use to open ceremonies. it is one where we are sharing our aloha, our energy, our manna, our spirit and giving it out to everybody else,” Mix said.

The celebration also included an offering of blessing in the space from Grupo Tlaloc Danza Azteca. The three offerings provided students, families, and the community with the opportunity to see the connections to identity and culture that are thriving in Cherry Creek Schools. 

Superintendent Christopher Smith offered some words of encouragement, as well as Michael Giles Jr., Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Culture and Community Engagement. This year’s ceremony gave the opportunity for two outstanding student speakers, Sander Bird Bear and Nizhoni Ramirez, the chance to share stories of perseverance through loss, hope for the future, and pride in family and community. 

Indigenous seniors celebrate with third annual graduationThe graduates were presented with certificates and marked their accomplishments through a family honoring time, which allowed for tribally specific cultural protocols to be celebrated, as the Drifting Bull Drum Group played a graduation song. Some of the connections and honorings included blanket wrapping, placing of eagle feathers and plumes, dressing in traditional regalia, presenting of a kīhei, the giving of family heirloom jewelry, and the gifts of lei and stoles. 


Posted 5/19/23.