UBC student graduates in clothes honouring his Aboriginal culture

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UBC student graduates in clothes honouring his Aboriginal culture

Stephen Mussell received his UBC law degree on May 20, 2015, wearing clothes honouring his aboriginal heritage.

Robin Munshaw/Facebook

UBC law student Stephen Mussell certainly stood out when he received his degree.

Surrounded by black caps and gowns, the 26-year-old Plains Cree/Métis student received his law degree from the University of British Columbia on May 20 wearing a tanned deer hide vest, beaded moccasins, a quillwork bolo tie and eagle feather, clothes that he says reflect his “culture and tradition.”

“As an Indigenous person, law school isn’t easy,” said Mussell, who graduated with a specialization in Aboriginal law. He pointed out that UBC sits on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people.

“Many of the laws we study and cases we read are disheartening and often upsetting. The cap and gown are an extension of the western legal tradition and I wanted to wear something that was part of my culture and tradition, a culture and tradition I’m extremely proud of.”

Mussell said once he found out from a faculty member that he could wear his regalia rather than the traditional cap and gown, it was an easy decision to make. The vest was made by his girlfriend’s mother, the bolo tie was given to him by his father, and the eagle feather was given by his nohkom (grandmother). “It was important to me that I have something from each of the people in my life that helped me get through, those who supported me on my journey,” he said.

Mussell says he hopes his decision sparks a discussion among non-Indigenous people about perceptions of law and governance, and how Indigenous laws and self-governance can be ignored.

As for fellow Indigenous people, he hopes his outfit is a reminder they can “work within a system that isn’t ours and still maintain our values and identity.”

“For our young ones I simply wanted to show that we’re just as capable as anyone, and that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. For our old ones I wanted to show thanks. Thanks for being so incredibly strong and maintaining our traditions and cultures through so much pain and adversity.”

– With files from Yuliya Talmazan

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