The Agora of the Centre d’étude supérieures Lucien-Cliche at the Cégep de l’Abitibi Témiscamingue in Val-d’Or was almost full for a special graduation ceremony on Thursday evening, December 2.

Laurie Ann Georgekish (of Wemindji) and Joni Saganash (of Waswanipi) received a certificate of college education making them both the first Community Health Representatives (CHR) to receive such a degree in Canada.

Cégep director Marc Bertrand said, “The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) can be proud of this accomplishment. Creating a program that combines both a scientific medical approach including the traditional Cree culture was not an easy challenge.”

In a heartfelt speech, CBHSSJB executive director Mabel Herodier said it was not easy at all. She took the time to address the crowd in Cree and English as many Elders were present. She said that throughout their 18-month-long college program, the two graduates distinguished themselves through their class attendance, participation and quality of their work.

They both achieved their goals despite all the obstacles they faced, like leaving their family, friends and community and moving to Val-d’Or where housing and living is often a challenge. The result is something to be proud of, being the first to receive certificates of college education as CHR. Herodier underlined the important role these two women now have in promoting their position and the health of their communities.

CHR teacher Tony Wawatie expressed similar thoughts about these two graduates and how they have distinguished themselves in their program.

As the two graduates received their certificates, there were several people in the audience shedding a tear of pride and happiness for these two young women.

Soon you will be able to see both Georgekish and Saganash at work since they now have the ability to work in multi-purpose community health. They will inform, educate and support the people in achieving better level of community health.

There will be more graduates joining them in the future as two more groups of students are expected to graduate in June 2011 and January 2012.