Crees have talked for years about the idea of setting up their own CEGEP. Now the idea is finally going to become a reality.

“We’ve always been talking about it,” said Clarence Tomatuk, deputy director-general of the Cree School Board. “I think more and more there is a need for it.”

Tomatuk chairs a five-member committee now looking into the specifics of what kind of a CEGEP or CEGEP-like facility should be set up.

The other members of the Cree CEGEP Committee are Charles Matoush, Kathleen Wooton, Norman Gull and Robert Ottereyes.

They are now looking for suggestions from Cree entities, bands and individuals on how to set up the college.

What courses will it offer? How should they be taught? Should it be a full-fledged CEGEP or a satellite of an existing one? Which community will get it? And what about tuition? A final plan will be sent to the Education Ministry in January 1997.

The Cree CEGEP Committee is operating on a $200,000 budget provided by the Quebec Ministry of Education, which supports the idea.

“I think it would be an intelligent solution,” said Paul RĂ©millard, the ministry’s coordinator of Native Affairs. “I think everybody would benefit from it.
First, for cost. And secondly, many students studying in the south drop out because of cultural shock.”

A CEGEP in one of the communities will allow Crees to pursue post-secondary education in their own environment and choose a program tailored to their needs, said Tomatuk. More high school graduates are likely to go on to higher education if they don’t have to move south, he said.
Tomatuk himself just completed a two-year MA in education in Montreal and said at times he felt a little uneasy in the changed environment.

“I felt very different. I didn’t feel at ease right away. If you have all the support necessary, maybe you don’t have to worry about that. But if you don’t, you have to work twice as hard. There’s a lot of pressure on that individual. It is another world.”

Training and education facilities are sorely lacking in the Cree communities. In 1994, the School Board reported that over 2,000 Crees who already have jobs need some form of further training or education. Also, at least 525 Crees need education and training to replace non-Crees working in James Bay.

Furthmore, at least 600 adult Crees need education to bring them to a minimal level of literacy in English or French.

Paul Gull, chair of the School Board when the report was released, said Cree youth could start leaving their communities if they can’t find training facilities and jobs there.