Cree community discusses dream of higher education options at home
Chisasibi, stakeholders working on feasibility study for proposed 'Chiiyaaniu College'
Two days of discussions about how to meet some of the higher education needs of the Quebec Cree Nation locally are happening this week in Chisasibi.
The main idea on the table is the creation of what's being called "Chiiyaaniu College," meaning "our college."
While in the short term, it wouldn't be a college - or cégep - accredited by the Ministry of Education — or even be a physical school — it can still offer accredited courses and go a long way to help Cree people become better prepared for the jobs available in the Cree Nation territory or for post-secondary education, according to Daisy House, Chisasibi's deputy chief.
"It's something we feel is a need. The nearest college is 10 hours away and it's in French," said House, adding that it's so important to offer more educational options for Cree who don't want to leave the territory.
"Some people say they want to practise their their [Cree] traditions and think they can't do without family support," she said, noting that if someone is studying 10 hours away from their home community, it's hard to travel home often enough to maintain strong ties to their culture and language.
There are a variety of stakeholders taking part in discussions happening this week in the community of more than 5,000, including the Cree Nation Government, Cree School Board, Cree Health Board and the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, as well as officials from Quebec's Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
Also involved are the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT), Cégep de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance, a non-profit group working to improve economic alliances in the territory between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
"Numbers are there"
House says they have received $150,000 from the education ministry to carry out a feasibility study on the Chiiyaaniu College idea and what it could look like in the short, medium and longer terms. She says down the road, it could be an actual, physical college.
"The numbers are there," said House, adding that the Cree Nation has a population of between 15,000 and 18,000 people, with approximately half under the age of 25.
"It's just a matter of deciding what are the courses and then how we proceed."
The working group behind this week's roundtable hopes to have a better idea of what is needed by the entities and businesses in the territory, and what courses Cree people would like to see Chiiyaaniu College offer.
A feasibility study is expected to be done by Christmas, and House says one or two courses could be offered either online or in an available space in the community by next summer.
House says some of the likely courses to be offered in the short term would be preparatory courses for Cree students hoping to move on to post-secondary education, as well as courses in administration.
The Higher Education Roundtable happening Tuesday morning in Chisasibi wants to hear from Cree people all over Eeyou Istchee to help create the vision for Chiiyaaniu College.
How to participate: Go to www.menti.com and enter code: 60 69 57