Quebec Cree launch $1M internship fund to bring graduates home

Quebec Cree launch a $1 million internship fund as part of capacity building work to help youth develop to their full potential and benefit from an estimated 10,000 jobs available in public and private sector in Eeyou Istchee.

'We're at a crucial crossroads,' say Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum of capacity building efforts launched in 2013

Close to 60 Cree students celebrated their graduation from McGill University with a convocation in Pikogan, Que., in June of 2019. (Susan Bell/CBC News)

The Cree Nation Government has created a $1 million internship fund to bring Quebec Cree post-secondary graduates back home, and to convince more youth to enter into higher education.

The money will be used to help organizations and businesses pay a graduate's salary for a year.

The internship fund was announced last week at the Summit on Building Capacity for Eeyou Istchee and is part of much larger, nation-wide efforts launched in 2013 to convince Cree youth to get an education and help build Cree communities. 

"Right now we're at a crucial crossroads," said Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum in his opening remarks for the summit last week in Montreal. 

(Susan Bell/CBC)

Bosum says he estimates as many as 10,000 jobs have been created in public and private sectors in Eeyou Istchee as a result of agreements and progress in the Cree Nation since the mid-1970s, with many more jobs on the way as a result of infrastructure projects

He wants to see more of those jobs filled by Cree people. 

"If the Cree Nation does not take advantage of these opportunities, they will be seized by others, and we will be passive observers. This is not what we want," said Bosum, who launched capacity building efforts back in 2013, before being elected grand chief. 

It is a message that resonates with Amanda Quinn, 26, who attended the first roundtable on capacity building in 2013 and now works for Apatisiiwin Skills Development in Mistissini.

A recent Ryerson graduate, Amanda Quinn was inspired by efforts launched by the Cree Nation to encourage youth to get post secondary degrees and move back to Cree communities to help build the nation. (submitted by Amanda Quinn)

"I was very inspired hearing from leadership on the significance of education. It motivated me to pursue university studies," said Quinn, who graduated from Ryerson earlier this year in media production and communications. 

The hope is the $1 million internship fund will encourage others to do what Quinn did and attend university, as well as convince organizations to hire youth when they graduate.

"We really want to invest in our youth so they can come back," said Louisa Saganash, director of Apatisiiwin Skills Development, the department behind the internship fund. 

She says the fund can be combined with an existing Cree Nation Government employment program, which can pay 50, 40 and then 30 per cent of a graduate's salary for each of an additional three years.  

"I think it's very important that we help [youth] as best we can," Saganash said. 

'We really want to invest in our youth so they can come back,' said Louisa Saganash, director of Apatisiiwin Skills Development. (Susan Bell/CBC)

Apatisiiwin and the Cree School Board are also in the middle of creating detailed reports, called Adult Learning Needs Assesments [ALNA], for each community. They will provide qualitative data, looking at education levels of the work force alongside community employment needs.

Saganash says it will help Cree people better prepare for the jobs available in their community. And help each community make training decisions.

"We're trying to look at what [each] community needs, so they could hire the person they need and have sustainable employment there,' said Saganash. The ALNA reports are expected to be ready in the spring of 2020. The internship fund is available immediately.

Housing needs also a priority

A lack of housing is also in the way of getting graduates home, according to Bosum.

Statistics from the capital works department of the Cree Nation government project a backlog of more than 4,500 homes by 2021, if current population and construction trends continue. Statistics also show overcrowding affects almost 20 per cent of households in the Cree Nation, about 15 times the rate of 1.3 percent for Quebec as a whole.

Bosum says addressing the lack of housing is a "major priority" for his government. 

"Our young people ... go off to college and university and come back to look for jobs and housing," said Bosum, adding his government plans to table a housing strategy in December. 

He hopes all of the capacity building efforts will help bring home the benefits of the more than 75 agreements signed since the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in the 1970s. 

"There should be no place for poverty within our midst," said Bosum.

"There should be no place for boredom or apathy, among our young people. Instead, we should see excitement, anticipation and inspiration."