After completing a successful semester in his second year at Bishop’s University, Carlton Bobbish jokes that he feels like the Marvel Comics character Thanos retiring at the end of the Avengers film. While he may not be a godlike supervillain, Bobbish is a man with a plan, studying education with the goal of returning to Eeyou Istchee to inspire young Crees as a teacher.
“If I was going to go teach, I would teach in our Cree communities, knowing that we need teachers,” Bobbish told the Nation. “Coming back to teach another young Cree, one Cree to another, maybe I’ll do some good. I feel I would be a great teacher for all the young Cree out there.”
While the 28-year-old is thriving in his post-secondary studies, he had to overcome challenges to get to where he is today. Growing up in Nemaska, he did well until struggling in high school with math and science, failing three years in a row.
Bobbish eventually earned his diploma through adult ed, then asked a friend for suggestions about how he could pursue higher education. At age 23, he enrolled in the springboard transition program at Champlain College Lennoxville, an English-language Cegep in Sherbrooke.
“Essentially it’s for people who have not attended education in a long time or are transitioning to college at an early age,” explained Bobbish. “That first year getting used to how college life works really helped me out before I took my pre-university program. I had to get used to being on time for things, how to write an essay, do an academic search, getting peer-reviewed resources, getting used to attending classes.”
Bobbish initially found the transition intimidating but soon made friends with successful Indigenous students who spurred him on. They included Mistissini’s Angel Baribeau (who now identifies as Siibii Petawabano) the recent grand prize winner in Canada’s Walk of Fame RBC Emerging Musician Program. It was during this first year that Champlain’s Indigenous counsellor, Randi Heatherington, proposed to Bobbish that he become a teacher.
“We examined how I really feel about it,” Bobbish recalled. “My mom is a kindergarten teacher. In the back of my mind, teaching is one of the things I always wanted to do. I really didn’t know how to approach it.”
After graduating from Cegep, Cree School Board consultant Amy Gallant recommended he enroll at Bishop’s University. Bobbish was surprised to learn that Bishop’ shares the same campus as Champlain College in the Sherbrooke borough of Lennoxville. Although this would have simplified his transition, the pandemic meant his first year was spent at home in Nemaska, taking classes online via Teams or Zoom.
“Attending the fall semester for my second year, I had at least three classes in-person and one was a hybrid,” said Bobbish. “It was easy to adapt. Bishop’s helps students not used to learning away from home. They have the Indigenous Cultural Alliance [ICA] with a ton of resources and a great space where you can study with coffee. It really helps.”
Bobbish also received help in essay writing from the ICA, a student-led club that organizes activities and study groups between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Although Bishop’s received a $5.9 million government grant in 2019 to develop an Indigenous space on campus, ICA members allege they’ve been excluded from the process and that most of the building will be allocated towards university administration offices.
Basketball is another way for Bobbish is involved in the campus community, as member of the varsity women’s team coaching staff. Basketball was a factor that initially drew him to Champlain.
“I did feel like one of the popular kids being a varsity athlete, but I had to be cut from the team because of age reasons,” Bobbish shared. “Transitioning to D1 woman’s basketball is a big step. It was scary at first, but I got used to being seen as one of the mentors. They have all sorts of questions – I’m a bit overwhelmed but I’m getting used to it. It’s really nice.”
Although a November basketball tournament in Ouje-Bougoumou that he planned to coach at was postponed, Bobbish expected to celebrate the holidays in Eeyou Istchee with his fiancée’s family. He said his relationship with Amber-Lee Clifford-Williams helps him maintain a healthy work-life balance.
“My fiancée has been very supportive,” he said. “She makes me meals here and there when I come back from campus. It makes it easier to get back to my studies or relax. Of course, we take days to spend together, and ignore my studies a bit. You have to make time for yourself.”
The CSB’s Post-Secondary School Services department helps fund travel, childcare and other school expenses. PSSS offices in Montreal and Gatineau also offer resource centres that include libraries, computer labs, study rooms, kitchens and even playrooms for children.
While the pandemic’s resurgence means in-person classes and activities are once again postponed, Bobbish still plans to complete 70 hours of a practicum during the winter semester. These field experiences are important for his eventual move to the front of the classroom.
“All the classes prepare me to teach,” said Bobbish. “This semester I completed intro to linguistics, English grammar, teaching and learning secondary levels, then early childhood education holistic approach. It’s exciting and I’m a little nervous about it too.”
Looking back at his educational journey, Bobbish feels fortunate that his parents supported him in whatever he wished to do in life. In the end, however, going back to complete his diploma and pursue higher education was a decision he made for himself.
“I really am doing myself a favour to make it this far,” Bobbish asserted. “Failing a class or two doesn’t mean education is not for you. Be resilient, prevail in your studies and you’ll be fine as long as you give your 110%.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter