Cree high school graduates have a growing number of options to continue their education journeys. While southern schools continue to expand programs and services for Indigenous students, there are also more post-secondary offerings within Eeyou Istchee.
For instance, the first cohort of the Iyeskuwiiu springboard program graduated last June. A partnership between the Cree School Board and Montreal’s John Abbott College, the one-year program enables Cree students to remain in their home communities through customized online classes and a land-based physical education component.
Those students appreciated deepening their Cree identity in culturally relevant courses while gaining Cegep prerequisites and study skills for their next steps. Applications for the 2023-24 school year will open in the spring.
CSB’s Post-Secondary Student Services department helps students navigate the often-confusing choices of education, career and funding options. They’ll guide you to resources to help transition to student life as an adult. A CSB Post-Secondary Student Conference is scheduled for April 21-23 in Ottawa for students to develop a peer network and meet with potential employers.
Quebec colleges and universities
Centre d’études collégiales à Chibougamau (CECC)
This predominantly French-language Cegep has taken steps in recent years to attract Cree students, including offering three programs in English. Created with funding from the Société du Plan Nord, CECC has a one-year springboard-to-college program and three-year career programs in natural environment technology and accounting and management.
“The greatest thing is they are tailored to Cree students and our trips are to the land,” said administrative officer Émilie Martin. “We create a schedule that allows students to have longer weekends for opportunities to go back to their family. I think our approach is culturally relevant and sensitive to Cree reality and culture.”
Although there are currently few Cree students, CECC has been working to change that through community tours, an Indigenous Student Services office and the new Mîchiwâhp Indigenous student lounge. The Mîchiwâhp features a mural co-created by Waskaganish artist Tim Whiskeychan and a picture photographed by Mistissini artist Brendan Forward.
“We’re enthusiastic to attract more Cree students,” director general Pierre Desjardins told the Nation. “In 2025, we will have an apartment dedicated to First Nations students, couples and families. There will also be rooms for families who want to visit their sons or daughters.”
The largest English-language Cegep in Quebec, Montreal’s Dawson College has vastly expanded its resources for Indigenous students. Its “Journeys” transition program encourages Indigenous students to explore education directions or complete prerequisites for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.
“Students come to test the waters, get used to the city life and get a solid family here before they go into their regular program,” explained Journeys co-coordinator Pauline Morel. With an increasing land-based component, it becomes a tight-knit community that offers field trips to Indigenous plays and interactive workshops around the city.
Students Kayla Spencer-Young (from Chisasibi) and Rotshennón:ni Two-Axe have launched an award-winning peer tutoring project to encourage other Indigenous students to pursue STEM fields. The college has a Decolonization Indigenization Studies certificate and is developing credited Cree and Inuktitut classes.
The Indigenous Student Centre is “like going into Auntie’s place for snacks, academic support and other resources,” said Billi-Jo Poirier. “Everyone’s made to feel so welcome, they’re able to grow and lead projects they want to see happening at the college.”
Bordering scenic Gatineau Park, the only English-language Cegep in western Quebec is 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa. Alumnus Caitlin Tolley, an Algonquin legal counsel from Kitigan Zibi, believes Heritage’s small campus is an ideal starting place with kind and patient professors.
Heritage offers an Indigenous Gathering Centre with a dedicated guidance counsellor and an annual Indigenous Culture Awareness Week. Students from Wiininekuu School in Waskaganish visited its campus in December.
Among Montreal’s English Cegep options, Vanier is a compromise between relatively rural John Abbott and downtown Dawson. Metro-accessible with plenty of green space, there’s a mix of university preparatory courses and career programs that lead directly to the job market.
“The overall vibe is increasingly welcoming to Indigenous students,” said Professor Jacky Vallée. “All Indigenous students have access to the A’no:wara Indigenous Student Centre where there are games, books, places to chill out and study or have lunch. Once in a while an Elder comes in. They have priority registration, tutoring in French and other perks.”
Although there’s not yet an Indigenous-focused Journeys program like Dawson, there is an introductory springboard program and a diverse array of other options, including Indigenous Studies. Secondary school groups from Wemindji and Chisasibi recently toured the college to experience its offerings.
Concordia offers a wide selection of excellent academic programs and a vibrant Indigenous community in the heart of Montreal. Its Otsenhákta Student Centre has expanded this year with new student success and engagement coordinators and they’re working on adding an Elder-in-residence program.
“Many students from Eeyou Istchee come here looking for familiarity and community,” coordinator Katsistohkwí:io Jacco told the Nation. “We host different cultural and community events – we’ve done ribbon skirt and shirt making, also an Inuit mitt making series. Many of our Film and Fine Arts students attended imagineNATIVE in Toronto in the fall.”
As a “next-generation university”, Concordia is renowned for its innovative approaches to experiential learning and cross-functional research, including a recent fish study in Mistissini. Its world-class facilities are a hub for avant-garde arts, languages, sciences and much more.
Launched in 2021, HEC Montréal, the prestigious business school, offers the First Nations Executive Education program to empower Indigenous leaders with a combination of traditional knowledge and the best of contemporary management practices. It now has four programs, targeted specifically for elected officials and administrators, entrepreneurs, managers and women in leadership.