Forty-six Crees graduated last week from McGill University’s first class of students in Aboriginal-literacy education.

A banquet was held at McGill University to honour the graduates. Elder Robbie Matthew Sr. of Chisasibi spoke at a banquet afterwards on the importance of the Cree language and teachers.

Three awards were given out to Marianne Cox, Frances Mark and Margaret Bearskin for their exceptional performance in the McGill program.

Most of the graduates were full-time teachers who took the courses in their own communities in the evenings and on weekends. The course was set up to help train Cree School Board teachers to give their classes in Cree. The certificate involves 10 courses and up to three years of work.

There are three groups of courses: basic literacy skills, creative writing and teacher skills.

Putting Cree in the schools is changing the face of education in the communities. “You don’t see kids being drageed to school

any more,” said Mary Bear, a program coordinator in Waskaganish.

“We found the kids very responsive to it. They were able to respond to it because it is in the language spoken at home,” she said.

“I think the students over-all enjoy school a lot more. And they’re able to talk to their grandparents a lot more.”

Lucy Shem, a Grade 3 teacher from Chisasibi, taught for 14 years before beginning to work in Cree.

“I couldn’t teach them as much as I wanted to,” she said. “As soon as I started

teaching in Cree, just about everything started to change for the positive. I really enjoyed it,” she said.

“More and more people are interested in taking the Cree courses. And more and more,parents are seeking to take it to help them help with their kids’ education.”-With files from The Montreal Gazette