Champagne and Aishihik First Nations takes graduation celebration on the road

Graduate Sean Barnaby poses for a photo in his gradfather’s front yard while waiting for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations graduation parade in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Gail Barnaby, mother to graduate Sean Barnaby, left, fixes Sean’s hair before the arrival of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations graduation parade in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Porter Creek Secondary School graduate Sean Barnaby, 17, right, waves as the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations parade passes him and his family in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Dän nätthe äda Kaaxnox (Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Chief Steve Smith) celebrates Sean Barnaby during a CAFN graduation parade celebration in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Sean Barnaby, 17, left, watches as graduation gifts are dropped off for him in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Porter Creek Secondary School graduate Sean Barnaby, 17, from left, his grandpa Paul Birckel, his mother Gail, and relative Barb Joe, watch as the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations grad parade passes the house in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Porter Creek Secondary School graduate Sean Barnaby, 17, from right, his grandpa Paul Birckel, his mother Gail, and relative Barb Joe, wave as the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations grad parade passes the house in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Porter Creek Secondary School graduate Sean Barnaby, 17, reads a letter from Champagne and Aishihik First Nations found in his gift bags after the graduation parade in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Sean Barnaby changes out of his traditional beaded vest and puts on a grad jacket gifted to him during the parade in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family and friends watch as Porter Creek Secondary School graduate Sean Barnaby, 17, checks out his swag bags left on the driveway during the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations grad parade in Whitehorse on June 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Traditionally around this time of year, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) is getting ready to throw a celebration dinner for all its citizens graduating from different levels of school, but this year, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, organizers had to take a different route.

That route, to be specific, was a parade route.

On June 3 and 4, CAFN council members, the chief, teachers, family and friends joined a convoy of vehicles that zigzagged its way across the Whitehorse area, as well as Haines Junction, to each graduate’s home.

“I think that was a really neat thing,” said Dän nätthe äda Kaaxnox (CAFN Chief Steve Smith), who was part of the convoy. “I just felt it was a lot more intimate.”

Planning for the parade started in April when it was realized that gatherings for graduations likely weren’t going to be allowed in time, said Kaaxnox.

In lieu of its formal celebration dinner, the council planned a parade full of honking, singing, dancing and even gifts for the grads.

Grads stood on their front lawns as convoys of more than a dozen cars drove past to congratulate them on their achievements. The grads, said Kaaxnox, included those from Kindergarten, Grade 7, Grade 12 and post-secondary and totalled more than 30.

“We pretty much hit every grad that was graduating from a program this year,” said Kaaxnox, adding that not every graduate can always make the dinner. “And so I felt it was more effective and it was also a lot more intimate to be able to, you know, hear a celebration song sung in their honour.”

Sean Barnaby, 17, was one of the high school graduates that was celebrated with a parade on the evening of June 3.

As the Porter Creek Secondary School graduate stood on his grandparent’s front lawn with his mom, grandparents, and other family before the parade, he said he was disappointed that his class wouldn’t be getting a true graduation.

“My whole life I’ve been expecting this big thing for grad, like a big party,” said Barnaby. “And then with COVID, kind of after spring break, I knew that everything was going to be different.”

But then a dozen vehicles loudly rolled up and stopped in front of the house; people were honking, yelling congratulations, singing celebrations songs and even dropping off gifts.

After five minutes of non-stop excitement and big smiles, the street cleared and Barnaby was able to open his gifts and laugh with his family about the experience.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Barnaby after the parade. “It was more than I was expecting. It was really great.”

Kaaxnox had some words of wisdom for graduates who are experiencing disappointment in missing traditional graduation ceremonies:

“This is just a small window of their life that we have to live this situation, you know, (and) while celebrations are good, finishing something that you start out with, this is good. They have to remember that there’s a lot of journey to get to where they are and (they) need to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.”

Contact Crystal Schick at crystal.schick@yukon-news.com

First NationsGraduation 2020

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