With rising graduation rates in Eeyou Istchee, the Cree School Board is working to develop post-secondary education options in the region.
On October 28, the brand-new Mistissini Sabtuan Learning Centre began its collaboration with other educational institutions to deliver culturally relevant adult education programs. Cree culture is woven throughout the beautiful building’s architecture, which features a luminous central atrium, locally created artwork and an Elders’ room.
“As a leader in Eeyou education, I want to see our people choose to live in the community, so they can speak their language, practice their culture and contribute to the Cree Nation as a whole,” said director general Caroline Mark. “This building is the right step toward making that happen.”
Sabtuan Adult Education Services also recently launched the Iyeskuwiiu Springboard Program, a preparatory program for post-secondary education developed in partnership with John Abbott College. The program is fully online except for two land-based physical education courses, in which students learn about the healing properties of plants in addition to the physical aspects of bush life.
While the CSB has submitted a feasibility study to the province regarding a proposed Cegep in Chisasibi, institutions in surrounding regions have been busy expanding their range of programs targeted at Cree students.
So, until “Chiiyaaniu College” becomes a reality, here are some Cegeps, colleges and universities both near and a little farther to take your education to the next level.
Colleges and Cegeps
Cégep de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue
Although most of its programs are in French, this Cegep’s Indigenous program director says many Cree students have enrolled in its springboard program, which is designed to help Indigenous students clarify their study path and improve chances of success.
“We have two programs that we offer in English: commercial aircraft pilot and police technology,” said Christine Desrosiers. “One is at the Val-d’Or campus and the other at Rouyn. Many students are coming from Eeyou Istchee – they feel at home because we really take care of them. We have people dedicated to offering academic, psychological or social support and have different activities and cultural week.”
If you’re still missing 10 or fewer courses for your secondary-school diploma, there’s also the exclusive Obakwadan Project in partnership with the Kitci Amik First Nations Adult Education Centre. In 2019, this Cegep signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the Cegep in Chisasibi.
Centre d’études collégiales à Chibougamau (CECC)
In November, this bilingual Cegep made a tour of secondary schools in Eeyou Istchee to promote its English-language programs: a springboard program, natural environment technology, and accounting and management technology. While there is not yet a student residence, there is an Indigenous student services space and frequent interaction with the Cree Nation through cultural activities, visits and internships.
This Odanak-based college by and for First Nations is a place for debate and reflection, empowering students with confidence and cultural pride. Students develop critical thinking skills and broaden perspectives by analyzing Indigenous thinkers and participating in cultural or political events.
“Coming from smaller communities, sometimes it’s easier to transition to a small college,” said assistant director Caroline Odjick. “We have approximately 100 students – everyone knows each other’s name. All our courses respect cultural differences, social backgrounds and interests.”
While most Cegep students in English programs must take French as a second language, Kiuna students can choose to take one of four Indigenous language courses, including Cree, which is currently under development. Kiuna enables students in its springboard program to complete missing secondary school credits and coordinates its services and break periods to make it easy for those who have children with them.
“We don’t want the fact you’re a parent to be a problem to access your studies,” Odjick told the Nation. “Our psychosocial services are all offered to our students, their spouse and their children so not only the students succeed but the whole family. We offer shuttle services between Trois-Rivières and Odanak every day. The same shuttle services are also offered to their children for daycare and school.”
Kiuna offers Indigenous-focused diplomas in either social science or arts, literature and communication, including a two-year Indigenous cinema program. New satellite classrooms are being launched in various communities for distance learning with the same technology and services found on campus. Odjick said they have the budget to accommodate a Cree community making such a request.
Southern Quebec and Ontario
Over the years, many Cree students have opted for popular Montreal-based Cegeps like Vanier College, Champlain College, Dawson College and John Abbott College. Most of these schools have supportive Indigenous student centres, Indigenous Studies programs and introductory transition programs specifically for Indigenous students.
There are also many interesting post-secondary options in Ontario worth considering, some of which have unique programs and dynamic First Nations communities. Here are a few that caught our attention.
With three campuses in North Bay, Canadore welcomes about a thousand Indigenous students each year, comprising a quarter of the student population. It has a vibrant First Peoples’ Centre, plus extensive student supports and exclusive programs such as Indigenous Pre-Health and Indigenous Wellness and Addictions Prevention.
Located 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau’s Heritage College is the only public English-language Cegep in western Quebec. Heritage offers both two-year pre-university programs and three-year career programs. Indigenous students can connect at the Aboriginal Centre and participate in its culture awareness week.
First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI)
Located in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ontario, FNTI has delivered diverse programs in conjunction with other colleges and universities for 35 years and will soon provide its own standalone post-secondary credentials. Indigenous knowledge and worldviews are integrated throughout its learning environments and curricula, while students appreciate their ceremonial gatherings.
FNTI offers several unique bachelor’s programs grounded in Indigenous culture: Indigenous Social Work, Indigenous Midwifery, Indigenous Justice and Sustainable Food Systems. Among its college programs is the only post-secondary Indigenous aviation program of its kind in Canada. Based at the Tyendinaga Aerodrome, it provides the hands-on flight training required to obtain a pilot’s licence.
Weengushk Film Institute (WFI)
Cree filmmaker Shirley Cheechoo, who was born in Eastmain, founded WFI on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island in 2002 after realizing how many Indigenous youth were passionate about channelling their creativity through media arts.
“The only way that I could find my voice was through the arts,” Cheechoo told the CBC during a recent funding campaign to build a new learning facility. “I found it in the arts and healed. And that’s why it’s important for these kids to come to my school.”
With a film production course certified by Brock University and other offerings – including new 3D animation and Indigenous governance programs – the non-profit training centre develops the self-sustainability of emerging artists while also providing land-based cultural immersion programs.
McGill University is always on the list for anyone considering post-secondary education. It is one of Canada’s oldest universities at 201 years old this year and part of Canada’s “Ivy League”. McGill is one of the biggest, with over 40,000 students studying in its 300 fields of study.
Some may be unaware of how far the university has gone to support Indigenous students and implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for academic institutions.
In terms of student support, McGill runs the First People’s House, which offers academic, financial, social and logistical support to students on campus. It includes weekly activities such as beading, drumming, or on making soup and Bannock; an annual powwow; Indigenous Awareness week; and film screenings.
Students can use the First People’s House as a study lounge – complete with computers, printers, study rooms, a conference room and a kitchen – as well as a residence with rooms that can be rented.
McGill offers an Indigenous Student Mentorship Program, which connects students unfamiliar with the House or the university in general with those who are. An Indigenous Students Association organizes its own academic conferences and more casual events.
In terms of academic content, the university began offering a minor in Indigenous Studies in 2014, with a broad interdisciplinary focus on historical, social and cultural aspects of Indigenous Peoples across North America. Some of the courses offered focus on Indigenous art, Indigenous literature, colonialism, contemporary Indigenous resistance movements, and Indigenous Peoples and the law.
The Office of First Nations and Inuit Education is an option for those considering becoming teachers. It works in partnership with several Indigenous education authorities across Quebec, including the Cree School Board and all nine Cree communities.
There are certificate programs in First Nations and Inuit Educational Leadership, First Nations and Inuit Student Personnel Services, Indigenous Language and Literary Education, Middle School Education in Indigenous Communities, and Indigenous Education for Elementary. Within the business program, a certificate in Indigenous Business Management is also offered.
The Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative supports an artist in residence, an Elder in residence, a writer in residence, as well as language revitalization work and a knowledge holder speaker series.
The School of Continuing Studies partners with the Cree Nation Government, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, and the Cree Nation of Mistissini to offer Cree-specific programs.
In 2017, the Provost Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education set out a series of 52 Calls to Action to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In response, the university says it has completed seven of the 52, while the rest are pending or in progress.
“McGill University recognizes the shared responsibility to ensure that the experiences of the victims and survivors of the residential schools are known and never forgotten. We likewise have the responsibility to address historical and contemporary systems of oppression, to acknowledge the errors of our own past and of our founders, and to forge a better, more inclusive future,” according to a statement from the university in response to the Calls to Action.
For those with a strong interest in business and management, and with a background in French, HEC Montréal is worth serious consideration. HEC is the oldest business school in Canada with over 15,000 students and 300 faculty members, and it is one of the country’s elite institutions.
The school’s focus for undergraduates is the Bachelor of Business Administration, which has options in French; French and English; or French, English and Spanish. The school is also known for its graduate programs in Business Administration, Management and Administration.
HEC Montréal has launched a First Nations Executive Education program, with streams that focus on training chiefs, band councillors and board members, another for managers and directors, and a third for Indigenous entrepreneurs.
It was founded by Ken Rock and Manon Jeannotte, both graduates of the HEC’s Executive MBA program. “We have jointly developed a school for First Nations that exemplifies our values and leadership and that will help pave the way to a prosperous future,” said Jeannotte in announcing the program.
“I welcome this co-development concept between HEC Montréal and First Nations, which hearkens back to the alliances that characterized our first contacts and that are in keeping with an outlook for a brighter future for us all,” added Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.
“The creation of First Nations Executive Education not only addresses a need for upskilling our leaders, but it is also an initiative that will undoubtedly have positive repercussions on all of our communities.”
HEC Montréal is also partnered with the Université de Montréal, through which students have access to student services and facilities like gyms and student clubs.
Nestled between the Saint-François River and surrounding farmland on traditional Abenaki territory just outside of Sherbrooke, Bishop’s University is one of the smallest in Canada, with fewer than 3,000 students.
Established in 1843, however, Bishop’s is among the oldest. It is frequently near the top of student satisfaction surveys in the annual Maclean’s university ratings.
One of only three primarily English-speaking universities in Quebec, aside from McGill and Concordia, the school boasts an Indigenous Student Support and Community Liaison, which provides guidance and academic and social support to Indigenous students. Students can get connected to professionals within the student service team or other resources on or off campus. The Liaison will also communicate with students’ home communities and other organizations to help ease their transition to campus life.
Students on campus have established an Indigenous Cultural Alliance club, meant to raise awareness of the Indigenous community and Indigenous issues on campus through cultural activities and events. Throughout the year, students can take part in things like beading workshops, visits to the Musée des Abénakis in Odanak, or the Orange Shirt Day march.
The university also offers an Indigenous Studies Minor, which combines courses from history, literature, education, political science, sociology and environmental studies, looking at issues from both a modern and historical perspective.
Bishop’s and the Quebec government announced in 2019 an investment of over $5.9 million to turn the university’s Divinity House in an Indigenous Students’ Gathering Space and Resource Centre.
“Our hope is that this Indigenous Students’ Gathering Space and Resource Centre will be a place of discussion, learning and sharing for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of our community to help foster reconciliation, healing and understanding,” Principal and Vice-Chancellor Michael Goldbloom said at the time.
“As an Indigenous student here at Bishop’s University, I am deeply grateful personally for further initiatives such as this one being put forward for the Indigenous students and community, and I know my feelings are shared by many of my peers,” added Shawna Chatterton-Jerome, co-lead of Bishop’s Indigenous Cultural Alliance.
Located on the traditional lands of the Anishnawbek, Laurentian University is situated between four lakes on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario, about four hours north of Toronto. For those interested in staying closer to home, the university is the largest bilingual distance-education institution in the country.
The university offers a modern Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre, which opened in 2017, offering gathering and study spaces, and is a hub for Indigenous Student Affairs.
There, students have access to an Indigenous Counsellor, an Indigenous Learning Strategist, the Indigenous Community Outreach and Liaison Coordinator, and the Niikaansidook All My Relations Traditional Resource Program, which offers teachings, workshops and ceremonies with traditional Anishinaabe Elders and knowledge carriers.
Throughout the year, there are events such as meet and greets, trips to Science North nearby, wigwam teachings, Treaty Recognition Week, and Indigenous Education Week, which features several talks and presentations.
Currently it offers a degree in Indigenous Social Work, focusing on Indigenous teachings, theories and practices, as well as a Masters in Indigenous Relations.
The school recently announced the launch of the Kina Binoojiinyag Gchinendaagsiwag (Every Child Matters) scholarship through the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre, focused on students studying language revitalization, and another three awards for Indigenous studying at the McEwen School of Architecture.
Laurentian boasts partnerships with community groups and initiatives, launching in 2020 an initiative between the university’s ECHO Research Centre and the Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre to focus on Indigenous mental wellness in children and youth by collecting survey data to share with healthcare providers.
University of Manitoba
The University of Manitoba may not be at the top of your mind for post-secondary studies. However, the university has several programs and services that cater to Indigenous students, including the Qualico Bridge to Success, which offers pre-orientation activities, peer mentoring, advising and organizes special events for first-year students.
Located on a sprawling campus beside the famous Red River in south Winnipeg, UM has over 30,000 students and 5,000 staff.
The Indigenous Student Centre in Migizii Agamik serves as a hub for Indigenous students on campus, offering study space, Indigenous Student Centre advisors, tutoring, a reading specialist, a reference librarian, a student advocate, career services and student counselling.
There’s also the Neechiwaken Indigenous Peer Mentor Program, which teams older students with first-year students to help them transition into campus life. UM organizes an annual graduation powwow, which this past year saw a record number of 510 self-identified Indigenous students graduate despite the pandemic.
“This past year has been challenging in many ways, and it has been wonderful to see how students have demonstrated strength, resilience and innovation despite those challenges,” said Carla Loewen, acting director for the Indigenous Student Centre.
There’s also a vibrant student culture, including the Indigenous Students’ Association, which promotes on-campus dialogue and discussion, maintains traditional teachings and organizes events for Indigenous students.
UM is at the forefront of debate around Indigenous identity, with its president recently announcing that the university would begin a process to move beyond Indigenous self-declaration, in response to ongoing cases of Indigenous identity fraud in the academic community.
UM is known as a research-focused university, with Dr. Moneca Sinclaire of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and a researcher in the environment and geography department recently launching a phone app to survey Indigenous communities about social and health issues, including in response to Covid.
“Due to past historical events, many of the chiefs and council members have questions about who’s going to own the data and what’s going to be done with it,” Sinclaire told UM Today Alumni. “A big part of our role is to assure them that we’re trying to do research differently, not from the same western perspective but research that’s for Indigenous people, by Indigenous people.”
In terms of academics, UM offers a broad range of programs, with over 100 academic disciplines. Included are a number of Indigenous-specific areas of study, including Aboriginal Governance, Cree, Indigenous Business Studies and Native Studies.