Northern Quebec CEGEP takes steps to help Cree students succeed

A special mural collaboration between two artists — one Cree and one Québécoise — is now hanging in a northern Quebec college, part of larger efforts to make Indigenous students feel more at home. 

French-language CEGEP creates Indigenous students lounge, offers three programs in English

Waskganish artist Jimmy Tim Whiskeychan, left, with Stéfanie Thompson, a Jamésien artist living in Matagami, collaborated on a mural that now hangs in the halls of the Centre d'Études Collégiales à Chibougamau (CECC). The French-language CEGEP has made several changes in the hopes of helping Cree students succeed, including establishing an Indigenous students lounge and offering three programs in English. (Laurie Caron/CECC)

A special mural collaboration between two artists — one Cree and one Québécoise — is now hanging in a northern Quebec college, part of larger efforts to make Indigenous students feel more at home. 

The Centre d'Études Collégiales à Chibougamau (CECC) is a CEGEP, as public colleges are called in Quebec, located in one of the non-Cree towns located in Eeyou Istchee, the traditional name for the Cree territory in Quebec.

In April, a mural collaboration between Cree artist Jimmy Tim Whiskeychan and Stéfanie Thompson, a non-Indigenous artist living in Matagami, was unveiled during the official opening of a new Indigenous student space. 

Called Wisdom from the Land (Sagesse de la terre), the mural shows a meeting of two cultures in the North, say Cegep officials. 

It reminds us where we come from.- Jimmy Tim Whiskeychan, Cree artist 

One half of the mural shows Cree youth in traditional dress on a snowshoe journey surrounded by a teepee, a goose, caribou and Cree syllabics. The other half shows wildlife, the territory and hunting and fishing. 

"When I made [the mural], I thought of many things, like traditional activities and cultural knowledge," said Whiskeychan in Cree.

"It reminds us that's where we come from. It shows how we learn … from Eeyouch and the knowledge of the elders too," said Whiskeychan, who is from the Cree community of Waskaganish. 

Whiskeychan's contribution to a mural now hanging at the Centre d'Études Collégiales à Chibougamau (CECC). (submitted by Jimmy Tim Whiskeychan)

The two halves of the work are joined by the arc of a sundog, said Thompson during the event. 

Since 2020, the CEGEP has been offering three programs in English, a one-year springboard-to-college program, and two three-year technical programs, one in accounting and management technology and the other in natural environment technology. 

The programs were created with funding from the Société du Plan Nord, which coordinates the actions of the government of Quebec north of the 49th parallel. 

The director general of the CEGEP, Pierre Desjardins, right, with Cree elder Caroline Longchap during a dedication ceremony on April 20 at the Centre d’études collégiales à Chibougamau. (Denis Lord / La Sentinelle)

The CEGEP also created an Indigenous Student Services office to encourage Indigenous students' academic success and well-being, according to Pierre Desjardins, the new director general of the CECC.

"We wish to continue working in close cooperation with regional partners to better meet the needs and aspirations of the members of the Cree Nation in terms of higher education," said Desjardins.

The CEGEP also inaugurated a new Indigenous student lounge called the Mîchiwâhp, a Cree word meaning teepee. The name was chosen through a contest with over 100 Cree youth submitting suggestions to name the space.

The winning entry was chosen by Aileen Hester, a high school student from Waskaganish. 

The Mîchiwâhp also features an image taken by Brendan Forward, a multimedia artist and photographer from Mistissini. 

The picture, Water in the Blue Hour, was taken by Brendan Forward, a multi-media artist and photographer from Mistissini. This image won a contest launched by CECC and now hangs in the Mîchiwâhp, a new student lounge at the CEGEP. (submitted by Brendan Forward)

Cree students will be invited to finish the design of the space in the next few years, CEGEP officials say.

"Our objective is to make higher education more accessible to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee," said Dave Harvey in a release. Harvey is the college's former director general who is currently the coordinator/project manager in strategic development, innovation and research transfer.