When NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community graduates filed into the theater for convocation Thursday (June 6), they did so for the first time behind NAIITS’ own eagle staff.

After NAIITS received a gift of eagle feathers at last year’s symposium, the Learning Community’s Elders came together in conversations, dreams and visions, and faculty member Kenny Wallace received a vision of an eagle staff for the community.

As the community gathered this year around the topic of "Dreaming Our World Home: The Roots and Role of Visions in Creating Indigenous Futures / an Indigenous Future" for its 21st symposium, Kenny shared his vision: the NAIITS logo; a Māori Poutama representing the ladder to heaven; colours representing Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and other Indigenous peoples in Australia; and 13 eagle feathers representing the 13 moons of the year.

“In the vision, as I understood it, this represents that all time is centered in Creator. And so, as we use this in community, as we use this in ceremony, we walk in the footsteps of Creator,” Kenny said.

It was the first of many visions shared as the 2024 NAIITS symposium began at KAIROS University on the campus of Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The annual gathering runs through Saturday (June 8).

“Creator continues to do amazing work. The visions and the dreams of our NAIITS founders continue to flourish and grow. And it brings great joy and delight,” said Shari Russell, director of NAIITS.

In a powerful moment, Shari asked those in attendance to call out the nations they come from.

“We have come from the north. We have come from the south. We have come from the east and the west. And we have come to this land the land of the great dreams of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Black Elk and — I would even say — our dear friend Richard Twiss,” she said.

“We have not disappeared as Indigenous people. We are still here.”

The Learning Community celebrated the graduation of three co-learners at convocation:

Donnie Begay is NAIITS’ first Doctor of Philosophy. He previously graduated from NAIITS with his Master’s of Arts in Intercultural Studies. He oversees NAIITS’ college programs and is a member of the board of Indigenous Pathways, the family of organizations that includes both NAIITS and iEmergence.

Nichole Forbes graduated with a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies. She is program coordinator for the NAIITS-led Canadian Learning Community for Decolonization and Innovation in Theological Education and is continuing her studies with NAIITS’ PhD cohort.

Raisera McCullough graduated with a Graduate Certificate in Theology from NAIITS College, where she is a communications and administrative assistant. NAIITS College is NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community in Australia and a member institution of the Sydney College of Divinity.

In his address, Donnie said he thinks of his research as “adding my frybread recipe to all the frybread recipes ever created since the beginning of time.”

“By doing this research and writing this paper, I believe I merely carry on the tradition of helping the next generation answer the fundamental questions of life that we all have: Who am I? Where do I come from? Who are my relations? Where do I belong? Who and what are my responsibilities? And where do I fit into this world and others?”

Donnie noted he hoped to carry on the tradition and legacy of NAIITS founders, professors and mentors like the late Richard Twiss, who first inspired him to join the Learning Community.

After convocation, two of NAIITS’ founding members, Director Emeritus Terry LeBlanc and Elders Liaison Adrian Jacobs, reflected on the vision for NAIITS in the opening plenary of the symposium.