Students earn university degree while remaining in northern First Nation

The University of Sudbury is marking a special celebration in Moose Factory, Ont. Another group of students will graduate thanks to the school's community-based program. The university has offered Indigenous studies courses in the community since 2013.

Community celebration to mark students' achievement of earning BA in Indigenous Studies

This picture is from the 2016 graduation in Moose Factory, where four students graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies. (University of Sudbury Facebook)

Allison Nakogee will celebrate the completion of her Bachelor of Arts degree today at a ceremony in Moose Factory, Ont.

She was able to take post-secondary courses because of the community-based program offered through the University of Sudbury.

"Having this opportunity I was able to stay in my community, keep my job, work during the week. I had the support system right here."

"It's not that easy for some people just to get up and leave," says Nakogee referring to individuals who must uproot their lives to attend post-secondary schools elsewhere.
Allison Nakageee will receive her Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies during a community celebration in Moose Factory today. She was able to take classes in her home town through the University of Sudbury's community based program. (supplied)

The University of Sudbury has offered the community-based program since 2013. At that time there were four northern Ontario First Nations that offered university classes through both face-to-face instruction and video conferencing.

Last March, the university lost its federal funding for the program, and had to cut courses it offered in Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Kashechewan.

The university professor who provides the students in Moose Factory with face-to face instruction is Emily Faries. She travels from Sudbury to the northern community on weekends.

Faries has a home in Moose Cree First Nation which means the school doesn't have to pay for her accommodations or meals while she's there.

"If it was anybody else who was going up and not from there, it would be very very expensive to send a professor up," Faries says.

The community-based program means students in the First Nation can work to improve their education without having to relocate.

Hard to uproot to large city

"Most of the students have children. It's very hard to uproot children and have them move to a city. It's very difficult for students to concentrate on their academics if they're busy with children, and just getting oriented to living in cities," Faries says.
Emily Faries is a professor at the University of Sudbury. She travels from Sudbury to Moose Factory to provide face-to-face instruction to students enrolled in the community-based program. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"It benefits not only the students who are obtaining their degrees, but it benefits the whole community because these students carry their newly-acquired knowledge into their work, into their families and into the community."

The ceremony in Moose Factory will also celebrate the renewal of the agreement between the University of Sudbury and the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council to continue to offer the program in years to come.

The Mushkegowuk Tribal Council is a non-profit regional Chiefs' Council representing eight Cree First Nations in northern Ontario.

Impact on students, families, commnuity

'It's really a commitment to work together ... We need to work with people there. It's their community, and so we have things to offer and we're there to work in collaboration," says Sophie Bouffard, president of the university.

Bouffard says the program has had an impact on the students, their families and the community.

"As an institution we do have a commitment to make post-secondary education available in areas where it's not as accessible," says Bouffard.

Faries welcomes all from the Moose Factory to today's graduation ceremony. She says the school wants the community to share in the success of the students, adding that there is a celebration every time there are graduates from the program.

"Even if we only had one we'd have a celebration."

With files from Angela Gemmill and Waubgeshig Rice