John Abbott College held a special graduation ceremony June 27 to celebrate the achievements of 10 recent graduates of the Iyeskuwiiu Springboard to CEGEP program.
A collaboration of the Cree School Board and John Abbott College, this one-year preparatory program is tailored to equip Cree students for their future educational endeavours.
With online courses, students can continue their studies in their home communities in Eeyou Istchee. This helps students pursue their education without sacrificing their cultural identity and support systems.
The curriculum incorporates a unique physical education component that takes students out on the land to engage in traditional activities. From learning the intricacies of setting fishnets to mastering the art of preparing traditional foods, these experiences not only enrich their understanding of their heritage but also allow them to develop essential life skills. For many of the graduates, this was their first opportunity to partake in these meaningful cultural practices, fostering a stronger connection to their roots and identity.
The success of the Iyeskuwiiu program can be attributed to its holistic approach, driven by the collaboration of various stakeholders. John Abbott College engaged with youth and Elder councils to develop a curriculum that reflects the Cree experience. Drawing upon knowledge provided by the Cree Cultural Institute, courses were crafted to embody the history, traditions and worldview of the Cree people.
Nian Matoush, the director of Sabtuan Adult Education Services (SAES), emphasized the significance of the program in reinforcing Cree identity.
“A critical part of being successful in post-secondary is being confident about who you are and where you come from,” said Matoush. By offering courses such as Cree Language, Power and Influence in Eeyou Istchee and Sub-Arctic Literature, the program prepares students academically while embracing their culture.
The impact of the Iyeskuwiiu program extends beyond the classroom walls. Students receive comprehensive support, including an allowance, loaned laptops, counselling, study space and tutoring. Furthermore, the program fosters a sense of community by inviting guest lecturers from Cree communities to lead life-skills workshops.
Among the 10 graduates, there were stories of personal growth, resilience and determination. “I really enjoyed it because I got to connect with my culture,” said graduate Shanelle Moar.
The Cree School Board is contemplating expanding Iyeskuwiiu to encompass a broader range of courses such as engineering, with a focus on higher-level math and science courses to provide a variety of opportunities.
The 10 Iyeskuwiiu graduates are pioneers, blazing a trail for future generations of Cree students, demonstrating that with determination, support and a strong connection to their cultural heritage, they can overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.