Kimberly Hart thought she might never learn to powwow dance.
But there the 34-year-old was Saturday afternoon, in a resplendent outfit in a fluorescent lit athletic centre at the University of Manitoba.
Hart, who’s doing her masters in social work at the U of M, hasn’t graduated yet but attended the traditional graduation powwow intending to dance.
She started learning powwow dancing last fall by going to a club once a week to learn some of the moves, and borrowed hair ties to wear with her own dress.
"I’m extremely nervous because there’s friends and family out there watching," said Hart, who grew up in Winnipeg but has family in Fisher River Cree Nation.
The University of Manitoba said about 180 First Nations, Métis and Inuit students are anticipated to graduate this year.
On Saturday, the powwow attracted hundreds of people to the Investors Group Athletic Centre, creating a loud din of noise while dancers prepped and graduates gathered.
Shawna Olson, a 21-year-old who will graduate this October with a bachelor of arts majoring in psychology and minoring in Native Studies, was at the ceremony.
Olson grew up in Brokenhead First Nation before moving to the city at about 12 years old to attend an all-girls high school where there weren’t many aboriginal students.
She said she’s been involved in Midewiwin ceremonies, and took a vow as a teenager to abstain from alcohol, drugs and sex.
"I was very fortunate enough to grow up with my mother. She was very involved in powwows, so I’ve grown up dancing powwows ever since I can remember, (like since) I can walk, pretty much," said Olson’s called Shawna in place of her Anishinabe name, bayshawnakadoquequay, which means Beautiful Cloud Woman.
Olson said she wants to be a child psychologist, and is especially interested in working with troubled kids in care.
She said the ceremony Saturday highlights the achievements who are "making it."
"I think it’s very important... because unfortunately there’s not a lot of us that go to post-secondary, get our degrees," said Olson.
"And, I think, the ones who do, it’s important that we recognize and celebrate them, and also encourage more people to do it, as well."