Cree high school grads can now start college-level education at home

After a successful pilot project, the Cree School Board is now accepting applications for a one-year, 16-credit program that will be delivered online beginning in August of 2022.

Cree School Board and John Abbott College partner to offer online, one-year program

Glen James Shecapio takes a selfie with his daughter Angie Shecapio at her high school graduation in August of 2021 in Mistissini, Que. The Cree School Board is accepting applications for an online, college-level program developed by Cree education experts in partnership with John Abbott College. (submitted by Glen James Shecapio)

Cree high school graduates in northern Quebec can now start their post-secondary education journeys at home, surrounded by family and support, with the launch of a online college-level springboard program.

The one-year Iyeskuwiiu Springboard to Diploma of College Studies Program was created by Cree educational experts through a partnership between the Cree School Board and Montreal-region John Abbott College, an English-language CEGEP, which is what public colleges are called in Quebec. 

Iyeskuwiiu means "to get ready" in East James Bay Cree.

"The content is really Cree," said Nian Matoush, the director of adult education for the Cree School Board. 

It's entirely based on Cree history... using Cree sources to develop the content itself.- Nian Matoush, Cree School Board director of ault education

After a successful pilot program this year, registration is now open until March 22 for next August.

Matoush says there is space for 30 students from across Eeyou Istchee in the nine-course, 16-credit program. Credits accumulated will be transferable to any English-language CEGEP across the province. 

"It's entirely based on Cree history ... using Cree sources to develop the content itself, but following college guidelines to make sure that students are credited at the end of the courses," said Matoush.

World through a Cree lens

The program includes courses like land-based physical education, sub-Arctic literature, and a humanities course, called Power and Influence in Eeyou Istchee, which is the traditional name for the Cree territory in Quebec, among others. 

The idea is to allow young people to begin their post-secondary education without having to also manage the culture shock and systemic barriers to their success that too often exist in the South, said Matoush. 

It's also a chance for them to figure out who they are as Cree people. 

"The core of this program is really reinforcing the Cree identity and giving students an opportunity to go through an entire program where they can not only learn about their culture, but [also] have their own identity reinforced."

High school graduates celebrate in the Cree community of Chisasibi, Que., in 2020. The Cree School Board is now offering a one-year post-secondary program that allows students to live at home. (Cree School Board)

It will also allow students a year to improve their reading, writing and comprehension skills in English, and allow them to mature and get a better understanding of what they want to study, said Matoush. 

Two of the six professors hired are Cree and most of the others have experience teaching in a Cree context, she said.

John Abbott College already had experience developing a springboard program, with Kativik School Board's Nunavik Sivunitsavut in Nunavik. One notable difference is the Nunavik program operates out of Montreal. 

"We are thankful for the trust the Cree School board has put into John Abbott College," Stephanie Hygate, director of Continuing Education and International Programs at John Abbott College, said in an email.

Matoush said John Abbott was also willing to empower and support Cree experts in designing their own program while still meeting the requirements of the Ministry of Education. 

Applications are open until March 22. Matoush said support is available to help people through the application process. 

"I wish this program existed back when I was just graduating," said Matoush.