For 19-year-old Payton Sinclair-Key, her high school graduation is about more than her personal accomplishments. It’s about her community’s accomplishments, as well.

“I like helping people and I like putting on great causes like this. I just think it’s good for other people to feel welcomed and special and very honored,” said Sinclair-Key.

She is one of more than 240 high school graduates being honored at the 2nd annual graduation powwow held in front of the First Nations University.

Two years ago, Scott Collegiate graduates were inspired by the University of Saskatchewan’s graduation powwow in Saskatoon on Treaty 6 territory, and many asked why there wasn’t a similar celebration on Treaty 4 territory.

That was when Sinclair-Key and Shaunice Tapaquan from Scott Collegiate volunteered to help organize the graduation powwow in Regina. This year, they were both gifted with blankets for their many hours of volunteer work in organizing the graduation powwow.

“They weren’t even graduating last year but they’re the ones who worked the hardest for those Grade 12s to ensure they were able to have the graduation powwow last year. So this year, they’re graduating, so it’s nice to see their work carried on,” said Shannon Fayant, principal of Scott Collegiate.

“We don’t do enough (celebrations) like this in Regina and as a community, I think it’s important to bring everyone together,” said Sinclair-Key.

Fayant says Scott Collegiate first approached their elders for guidance and the powwow community support was overwhelming.

“The students completed their Grade 12, but that’s not it, we want them to carry on, we want them to come to the First Nations University of Canada, we want them to come to the University of Regina,” added Fayant.

Jayden Masney from Campbell Collegiate is one of those students who will be transitioning from high school to university. He was the only Indigenous student at the celebration representing Campbell.

“It feels like Grade 9 was just yesterday and its super honoring to be graduating as a First Nations student here,” said Masney, who will be taking engineering classes at the University of Regina in the fall.

According to the Ministry of Education, the number of self-declared Indigenous students graduating high school has risen from 31 per cent in 2007 to 41 per cent in 2016.

Fayant says having Indigenous advocates, programming and events in the schools help so many Indigenous students in succeeding.

“Just being able to celebrate your Indigenous identity is going to assist many of the students. (Indigenous advocates) are making a difference and they are assisting students where they might have fallen off track or not have come back,” said Fayant.

Sinclair-Key will be taking university classes, majoring in science at the First Nations University in the fall. She will also continue to organize the graduation powwow for next year. With hard work, she hopes to inspire other Indigenous youth to finish their Grade 12.

“Keep your head up strong and you can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” said Sinclair-Key.