Kyra De La Ronde

June 8, 2022

Métis grad makes history by being valedictorian

Valedictorian Kyra De la Ronde takes the stage for her graduation at Red River College Polytechnic

With the school year winding down and summer just around the corner, graduation season is here, and Métis graduates are eager to cross the stage in their cap and gown. For the month of June, we're featuring Red River Métis graduates who've made a difference in their communities while excelling in their studies.

Meet 23-year-old Kyra De La Ronde, who recently graduated from Red River College (RRC) Polytechnic and was the first Métis valedictorian in the institute's history.

De La Ronde began her post-secondary schooling at the beginning of the pandemic and had the option to defer her enrolment until after restrictions eased but chose not to.

"We don't know what the future will look like, so I wanted to get in there (and study). I did my studies remotely from home in Selkirk for the two years," she said. "I was in-person no more than five occasions throughout my whole two-year studies, and those five occasions happened within the last six months. So, most of it wholeheartedly was done online at home."

The valedictorian studied in the Community Development Program during her tenure at Red River. She said during her first year, there were 35 students, but that number drastically dropped by year two.

"You can leave after the first year with a certificate or stay for the full diploma for the second year, and it goes into two streams," said De La Ronde.

The two streams consist of Social Entrepreneurship, and Economic Community Development, in which De la Ronde was enrolled.

"There were six of us in our stream and four in the other stream. From 35 to 11 was a big drop, but it's a common drop they see in our program. So, we (the second-year students) were a really tight-knit community."

De La Ronde and her classmates would often meet for meals when restrictions allowed for them to get together and form lasting relations throughout college. With a class composed of non-Indigenous, First Nations, and Inuit representation, she was eager to share her Red River Métis viewpoint.

"I found that it was important because I got to bring the perspective of being Métis when talking about economics, community development discussions, and things important to our communities," she said. "Every project I had done during my two years (at Red River) always had a Métis focus within them. I wanted to bring my own identity into the work I was doing, and the possible work I could do for my community."

During De La Ronde's two-year program, she was highly involved in extracurricular activities such as the Indigenous Students' Organization, was the Métis voice for the Students' Association, and spent time as an RRC employee during the summer working on their strategic plan.

De La Ronde said she got word of her valedictorian nomination through Carla Kematch, Manager of Truth and Reconciliation and Community Engagement at RRC.

"Through my involvement at the college and (from) my experiences within our Métis communities, I was recognized, and my name was brought forward," she said. "I believe five other students throughout (Red River) had their name put forward, then a selection committee came together, and I was the one selected. I was the first-ever Métis valedictorian at Red River College."

De La Ronde didn't even know she was making history until graduation day.

"I never thought of the historic nature of it until someone commented saying, 'You do realize this, right?' It didn't change any of the sense of pride that I had felt towards it, but it was more a (feeling of) this is important for our people that someone is given this honour to stand in front of the room, and for it to be me, I'm very honoured to be doing so," she said. "But I think it's come to a time that we should have had this (a Métis valedictorian) a long time ago. There have been many amazing talents (who have) come from this college, but to give that address, I think it's honourable to bring back to our community."

Richard Genaille, Minister of Sports and Youth; Minister Will Goodon; and Kat Patenaude, Media Relations Advisor support De La Ronde at her graduation ceremony.

While De La Ronde attended RRC, she fell in love with one class: Indigenous Economics. She joked if you told her high school teachers a math-related subject would be her favourite, they wouldn't have believed her.

"I love how we can make money in a community and how we can support ourselves within that community, rather than looking at the traditional colonial government standards for receiving funding. So, (finding) ways we can move away from federal and provincial funding models and ways we can fund ourselves as Indigenous people. That was one of my favourite classes, and my instructor was a Métis woman, and I've never had a Métis teacher before," noted De La Ronde. "It was really (a lot of) passionate conversations and deep conversations about what money can do for people and how we can make money in ethical and sustainable ways."

De La Ronde was a sponsored student through the Manitoba Métis Federation's (MMF) Métis Employment and Training Department (MET), and is grateful the MMF supported her through college.

"On top of that, I was also eligible in my first year of studies, so I (received funding through) the Post-Secondary Education Support Program through the COVID relief. That was an additional $5,000 that the MMF Government supported me with, so I had no financial burdens during my studies," she said. "That was one of the biggest reliefs, especially during the pandemic when employment was hard to find."

Now that the dust has settled on the valedictorian's graduation and she's had some time to reflect on her educational experiences, this is the advice she has for other Métis Youth graduating in the next few years.

"It seems funny that a piece of paper is what we're fighting for at the end of (our studies), but that piece of paper is something that for so long we weren't able to receive, and we weren't given that same access to getting it. So, it's empowering to have that piece of parchment with your diploma, degree, certificate, whichever it might be," De La Ronde said. "But, to keep pushing towards that piece of paper, and when things get difficult, you can come to the community, and we will support you through the rest of your journey. I was heavily supported through my whole journey (by the MMF), and if it wasn't for that support from our community, I don't think I would have made it out as good as I did."

De La Ronde was one of several Métis Youth who helped Minister Genaille raise the Métis Nation flag at Investors Group Field at the home opener on August 5, 2021 in front of 30,000 Bomber fans.

Life outside of school

While at RRC, De La Ronde found a way to balance extracurricular activities and her classwork, all while remaining active within the MMF.

The Métis grad currently serves as the Infinity Women Representative for the MMF Regional Youth Advisory Committee within the Interlake Region, and is Chairperson of the MMF Provincial Youth Advisory Committee.

She strives to make sure MMF Cabinet understands the needs of Red River Métis Youth and the perspectives they have. She said one of her notable moments as Chairperson involved a resolution passed at the 2019 Annual General Assembly (AGA).

"(It's to) to ensure that Youth are involved at the AGA," she said. "We used to have a Youth conference that ran coinciding with it. We have moved our Youth conference, so our Youth are wholeheartedly involved in participating at our Assembly because (Youth are) the root of our government level."

De La Ronde also served as the Youth Co-chair for the MMF AGA in March 2022. She strives to listen to what the Youth have to say and be an active voice for them.

"I'm hearing where we could do better and areas where they see improvement needs to be made. (I'm) bringing all those issues that I hear forward and (I'm) trying to have positive conversations on them, to make sure these Youth know that we do support them, we are listening to them, and we're doing everything in our power to work for them," she said. "I might be the face that gets to take part in all these fun opportunities. But really, I'm doing the work for all those (Métis Youth), and the concerns that I hear is why I am here."

De La Ronde served as the Youth co-chair at the MMF Annual General Assembly in March 2022.

Earlier this year, De La Ronde was one of four Youths selected to the Red River Métis delegation that travelled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. She was honoured to participate in the delegation and thinks this trip hits home the narrative of Youth having a deeper understanding of the issues Métis Citizens have faced both past and present.

"We were able to have Youth perspective to bring those home and then have other conversations with Youth. So, we can talk about what we heard, how we felt, and how we saw things from the perspective of being young people in our community."

The Métis Youth leader said it was surreal to hear what His Holiness said, and his words had an impact.

"Especially regarding the future. Because Youth are the future of our government, they're the future of our Nation, and I think it's important for us to be involved now so we can carry on that work in the future."

De La Ronde was one of four Youths selected to the Red River Métis delegation that travelled to Rome earlier this year to meet with Pope Francis.

One highlight De La Ronde recalls during the trip was being able to have supper with the other Youth delegates near the Pantheon and reflect on what this trip meant to them.

All in all, she believes the future for Red River Métis Youth is bright.

"There is so much Youth excellence out there," she said. "We get to know a few names, and we know of a few people, but there is so much excellence within our communities, and I think it's truly inspiring."


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