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Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

New Year’s Greetings from across Eeyou Istchee

Jan 4, 2020

The Cree Nation has leaders in many different roles throughout Eeyou Istchee. Serving their communities with pride, their efforts affect everyday life and have a huge impact on Cree quality of life.

We asked for their thoughts on the past year and a look ahead at the next. Each answered the following questions:

1) What was the high point or biggest accomplishment you made professionally this year?

2) What was the most difficult point and how did you overcome it?

3) How are you feeling about 2020?

4) Is there anything you would like to add?

Louisa Saganash

Director, Apatisiiwin Skills Development

There are many accomplishments within the department and one is the rebranding of the Cree Human Resources Development department to Apatisiiwin Skills Development (ASD) department along with creating its new website (www.apatisiiwin.ca). A high point this year, ASD recently launched a $1 million internship program for post-secondary students to gain work experience that will lead to sustainable employment opportunities. Another major initiative is the Community Employment Needs Assessment (CENA) survey conducted by the department. Then the partnership with the Cree School Board-Sabtuan Adult Education Services on the Adult Learning Needs Assessment (ALNA) survey. Both needs assessments once completed will create viable training programs and employment opportunities in Eeyou Itschee.

The CENA was difficult to conduct mainly because employers were not engaged in the survey. We needed the community employers’ full participation and collaboration to get good results. More from a personal level, this past year has been very challenging for me being the caregiver of both my husband and my mother. My husband is a cancer survivor and my beloved mom passed on this summer. She is at peace now. The wonderful memories we all created with her will forever be in our hearts and when I think of them, bring me comfort, peace and a smile on my face. Family and work inspire me to go forward no matter the circumstances.

Exciting times are coming in the New Year. We have so much work to do, but it is with passion ASD is moving forward in accomplishing the mandate given to us. With the ALNA survey in partnership with the Cree School Board-Sabtuan Adult Education Services, we have results we can work with in creating training and employment opportunities in Eeyou Itschee. Then we had the Cree Nation Government’s Summit on Building Capacity in Eeyou Istchee that produced results that we can all work with as well. Community tours and promotion will be on ASD’s agenda for the coming year.

Wishing everyone, a joyous Christmas and a prosperous New Year 2020! With good health, peace, joy and most of all love.

Bella Moses Petawabano

Chairperson, Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay

The past year has seen us move forward in some important areas, so we have many highlights. In October, we signed major financial agreements with the Quebec government that will secure funding for the next five years. The agreements include over $700 million in new money for a new Regional Health Centre in Chisasibi, three Elders’ homes, and expanded services in every community, and 600 new jobs. 

Another highlight of the year was the launch of the home hemodialysis pilot project in Waswanipi. Using portable dialysis technology, some clients are able to have dialysis treatments in the comfort of their own home. If this pilot proves successful, it will transform the way we provide hemodialysis for many patients in communities which do not have easy access to dialysis in the hospital or CMC. While this technology is promising, we must confront the diabetes crisis in our communities with education and public policies that promote healthy living. Diabetes is preventable.

I was thrilled to see that the vision of the Cree Nation to bring birthing back to our territory is becoming a reality. This spring, the first babies to be followed by a midwife in Chisasibi were born, and the program continues to grow. We will be building birthing homes in Chisasibi, Waskaganish and Mistissini in the coming years.

I am very pleased to join the Board of Directors of the Canadian Red Cross, a very respected organization that is an important partner to our communities in times of emergency. 

Another highlight which we should not overlook is the release in September 2019 of the final report of the Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Quebec: listening, reconciliation and progress. The CBHSSJB gave significant input to the Commission’s work and we are pleased to see that the report underlines the importance of cultural safety in health and social services. Cultural safety is a cornerstone of training for all CBHSSJB doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in our organization.

We have also faced challenges and setbacks in 2019. A difficult moment for me was the recent tragic death of George He, a nurse who lost his life when driving to Nemaska for a work assignment. His loss is felt deeply by all who knew him. Following this tragedy, we have already begun working with partners to ensure that secondary roads are not marked as options on GPS navigation systems, and to push for greater cell service coverage in our Territory. 

Highlights of 2020 will include the opening of the new Youth Healing Reception Centre in Mistissini, and the Third Regional Assembly on Health and Social Services, to be held in Chisasibi March 31-April 3, 2020. The Assembly will focus on the theme of traditional knowledge and medicine in Cree Health Board services. To support this vision, we will be working with the Quebec government to revise legislation to ensure that Eeyou-Eenou medicine and healing practices are recognized. 

On behalf of the Cree Health Board, I wish our friends at the Nation and your readers everywhere a safe and restful holiday.

Matthew Happyjack

President, Air Creebec

Accomplishment of the Year: Air Creebec Inc. is a proud partner in the establishment of the Commercial Aircraft Pilot course to be given by Cégep de l’Abitibi Témiscamingue in Val-d’Or where Crees can have access and take a course close to home. Check out:  www.cegepat.qc.ca/flight

Difficult Point: The climate change where we had fog in the James Bay area over the summer months and Air Creebec Inc. couldn’t deliver air transportation services in different communities at different occasions. We made season schedules for flights.

Feelings about 2020: At Air Creebec Inc., we safely, comfortably and reliably fly you to your destination. To securely connect the Cree communities and be one of the engines of their development. With these values in mind: safe – dependable – efficient – trustworthy. We will continue to aim higher.

Greetings for 2020: We want to wish you all good health, prosperity and happiness in 2020. Hoping it’s in line with what you are expecting.

Stella Masty Bearskin

President, Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association

The highest point of this year for me was that I was elected president of CWEIA at the AGA in September. After many years of being a faithful and loyal member of CWEIA since its incorporation, it was such an honour to be elected as the 4th president, and mostly because my passion is in line with the vision and mission statement of CWEIA. 

In my position, the hardest part was when we did the interviews for new staff. We could not hire all those wonderful ladies, and that made me sad. We have such amazing, talented and educated ladies in the Cree Nation, and it is my fear that we will not be able to cater to all of the women as that is my main goal, is to serve and help all women who reach out to us, in the Eeyou Istchee. The women’s voice is very important, and it needs to be heard. We need to create that safe space for them to feel free that they can express themselves in a positive and conducive way so they don’t fall through the cracks of society.

I am excited about 2020, as CWEIA has many projects and events planned, as well as the community tour. I absolutely love the Cree Nation, and it’s always an honour for me to go visit and see the communities. I am also ecstatic about the new staff we hired to have a further reach in Eeyou Istchee and that we are planning the Business Forum & Leadership Conference in March 2020. So be on the watch out for flyers and information. 

I want to take the time to wish everyone all the best for the New Year and more importantly to have a safe holiday. Watch out for upcoming CWEIA events and programs, and do not to be shy to interact with our new staff as well as myself. I am excited for the new upcoming year, and hope we make better, happier and healthier choices for 2020.

Sarah Pash

Chairperson, Cree School Board

It has been a really great year and there are many things that I am proud we were able to accomplish this year. As we focus on improvements geared towards student success, it’s been such a pleasure to work with the Council of Commissioners overseeing great initiatives such as:

Ensuring the Cree School Board moves forward in taking a data-driven decision-making approach to improvement: The data plan for the board will ensure that the CSB is able to utilize student data to gain a true portrait of where our students are, where our strengths are, and where our weaknesses can be targeted with meaningful interventions. Through this plan the CSB will be able to dig deeply into data about student retention, performance, absenteeism and engagement, allowing the board to target initiatives and resources in high-need areas geared towards student success.

Focus on capacity development: Utilizing a data-driven approach, the CSB has collaborated with Apatiisiiwin Skills Development to survey communities about the types of training and adult education opportunities that need to be available to young people in our communities in order to ensure that they are equipped to enter the job market. The Adult Learning Needs Assessment carried out over this past year will guide the CSB in determining real needs for programming in our communities in terms of education and vocational training. The Council of Commissioners has also placed importance on meeting the training needs of both students and major employers in our communities; ensuring communication between the CSB and the Cree Health Board will help us to determine training programs that will provide training opportunities for students that will equip them to move into numerous positions developing within the Cree Health Board over the next few years.

The Council of Commissioners is particularly excited to have reactivated the Cree CEGEP file in order to begin studying the feasibility of developing our own post-secondary institutes to better meet stated needs in our communities. The Adult Learning Needs Assessment has shown that many people in our communities wish to pursue post-secondary education but are unable to leave their communities for a variety of reasons. With the development of our own CEGEPs we will be able to meet the needs of our communities by targeting programming to develop our work force in areas key to economic and community development, meeting the needs of our businesses, local governments, and regional entities as well.

Focus on targeted results: While graduation rates have continued to move up incrementally, the Council of Commissioners implemented targets for the CSB to reach over the next five years. These targets are in the form of stated expectations relating to student results, parent and community engagement, and ensuring qualified, well-equipped teachers in our schools. The Council has given a directive to determine a path to improvement which will bring our high school graduation rate above the provincial average over the next five years. With this bold approach, we are clearly stating our expectations for our school board and our schools and tasking them with the plan for delivery. We expect that graduation rates will move above 75% before the end of five years.

Through engagement sessions with post-secondary students over the past year, the Council of Commissioners has also determined areas and processes in need of improvement in order to better support students. Our post-secondary program is key to capacity development as we qualify our own people in key areas related to nation-building and economic development. The ability of our students to succeed in their post-secondary programs is an area of great importance to the CSB and to our nation. We have also implemented measures to support entry to the job market after post-secondary completion through partnership with ASD and a liaison position placed in the post-secondary office in Gatineau; this position helps graduates connect with employers in the region and the communities so that they can go straight from graduation to employed positions. We look forward to collaborating with communities and regional partners to look solve housing issues that continue to create barriers to our post-secondary graduates who wish to return to their communities.

As Chair and as a Council, we understand that there will be times throughout our mandates when difficult situations will surface. Some particularly trying times came this year, when we were forced to deal with situations that had to do with questions of student safety and comfort within our schools. We all know that bullying is an issue and it is, of course, something that troubles us deeply as leaders of the Cree School Board. While the CSB partners with the Cree Nation Government in the deployment of the SNAP Program, an anti-bullying initiative, we realize that there is more to be done. We are hopeful that a bullying program developed in-house and specifically for Cree students will be within our schools in the future. We also feel that it is important that this issue is taken up in all sectors of our nation, at all levels of our communities, and by all organizations. It is a problem that affects us all and is not just isolated to our schools. We need to recognize that, and begin to discuss more openly with a solutions-oriented approach.

We also had a particularly sad time at the end of this summer with the passing of our beloved CEA from Whapmagoostui, William Kawapit. William was known to so many of us and we all have such good memories of him. He was known as a kind and caring soul, a strong administrator with an exemplary work ethic, a devoted family man, and, above all, a person dedicated to our children’s education and success. We know his loss has been difficult for the family, the community and Badabin Eeyou School and that he will always be remembered fondly and with great respect. Our focus has been on supporting the school community through the remainder of this year as best we can.

I am feeling very positive about 2020 and am excited about following new initiatives. The data plan will finally come to fruition and will begin generating reports. We will have policy updates in our Post-Secondary Program. The new Adult Learning Centre in Mistissini will be opening this spring, and we will get underway in planning the new Adult Learning Centre in Chisasibi and Whapmagoostui. We will break ground on the new pre-school in Chisasibi and will begin planning the new high school in that community. We will also see some innovative new approaches taken in teacher training as we work hard to increase the number of teachers from our own communities qualified to teach in our schools.

I look forward to continuing with community visits and student engagement efforts as we work to ensure that voices from all of our communities are heard and are part of our journey forward. One of my greatest joys in this position is the ability to spend time in our communities. I love being able to get out and hear from people, to see great things happening in our schools, to talk with teachers and administrators, and to have important discussions with our students. Being able to hear from young people has shown me that our future is in good hands; it’s our job now to lay the foundation and to ensure the proper supports are in place. Over the next year, I hope that I’ll be able to broaden my visits and stakeholder engagement activities and hear more from youth, women’s associations and Elders’ associations in the communities.

I would like to wish all in Eeyou Istchee a Happy New Year! I’d like to thank our teachers, students and administrators for your engagement and hard work over 2019. I’d also like to thank our parents, guardians and grandparents for the care and dedication you bring to supporting student success and to supporting our schools. I wish our youth sector, adult sector and post-secondary students continued progress and success in 2020 and all the best for the coming year.

Our students are our future; they are the reason we all do the work we do. As I have often said:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

I firmly believe that and if we all take hold of these words and work with them in mind, I have no doubt that our education system will be our tool to make great change and bring meaningful progress to our nation.

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