LETHBRIDGE – A pair of pioneers in advocating for Aboriginal People and Aboriginal education were celebrated as part of the University of Lethbridge fall convocation ceremony on Saturday (Oct. 14).

Buffy Sainte-Marie, a singer-songwriter, activist and an educator herself, was presented with an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. It was one of the more than 200 degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded by the university to students and champions.

Sainte-Marie has been a leader and long time advocate for Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and around the world.

U of L Chancellor Janice Varzari says Sainte-Marie has consistently used her talents to bring light to injustice and intolerance.

“We’re thrilled she accepted our offer of an honorary degree, and we look forward to furthering discussion in the future on the important issues that she continues to advocate for,” Varzari said.

Sainte-Marie has focused on addressing topics like abuse, women’s rights, equality, education and war. She’s always been something of an underdog, working to overcome obstacles in her own life.

“As a little girl I played music naturally, and I’ve never been able to learn music,” she said. “My teachers in school told me that I couldn’t be a musician because I couldn’t read music. I actually found out a few years ago that I’m dyslexic in music, so I learn by ear instead of by eye.”

Her work in communities around the globe has allowed Sainte-Marie to see the effects of colonialism on Indigenous people, and it was these concerns that became themes she used in her music, teaching and artistry.

Sainte-Marie says she’s thankful to have been a part of ceremony, but more so to see the looks on the faces of the students graduating.

“I feel blessed to have been able to go to university myself, and it was a big honour for me to be a part of this day to participate with people who will form the future of our country,” Sainte-Marie said.

Sainte-Marie was also very complementary of the time she’s spent with Indigenous elders around Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“They taught me so much, the people who shared with me were real teachers, they weren’t acknowledged, they weren’t in universities and lived in poverty,” Sainte-Marie said. “But I know what they taught me, and what they taught others, and I try to take a bit of that and share it with others either through music or through teaching.”

Dr. Leroy Little Bear was also presented with the Speaker Research award. Little Bear is a pioneer in the advancement of Indigenous education, and was a founder of the University’s Department of Native American Studies.

He’s received the key to the City of Lethbridge, an honourary Doctor of Arts from the U of L, and has been inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Little Bear says he’s proud of the all work that’s been done locally for Indigenous people, and of the work the university has done as well.

“There’s lots of people doing truth and reconciliation in Canada right now, but the University of Lethbridge has been about truth and reconciliation way before it was cool,” Little Bear said. “Ever since the establishment of Native American studies we’ve seen an increase in the amount of cultural and academic programming, and that’s proof the work we’ve been doing has made a difference.”