Looking for a better education? Cannot find it in your home community? Waswanipi and the newly opened Sabtuan Regional Training Centre might be just the place to go.

The unveiling of the $18.3 million complex for students searching for vocational training took place May 31, much to the delight of the Cree School Board.

”It went really well. We considered it a success,” said Cree School Board Director General Abraham Jolly. “We wanted to have a vocational avenue for our students. In our system right now it seems to be more academic. We talk about success with our students and I think that in order to have that success, there has to be that avenue of education as well in the vocational field. A lot of our students are more inclined to hands-on training.”

The centre has been open since classes started in the fall of 2005, but an official grand opening ceremony hadn’t been staged until now. Initially the grand opening was planned for the fall, but Jolly said the CSB preferred to delay it until such time as “it was up and running and programs were being delivered.”

Aside from the main training centre, the complex includes teacher and student residences.

“When we started negotiations with the Education Ministry, the vocational training centre was one of the main issues tabled,” said Jolly, who added that the CSB was looking to enhance the vocational options of everyone in Eeyou Istchee, not just those in Waswanipi. The centre is open to all James Bay Crees.

“It was in 2002 that the MEQ encouraged us to pursue the idea of a vocational training centre,” Jolly noted. “They allocated some monies for us to do a study on it. Once the study was done, which included visiting other centres in Quebec, we had a fair idea as to the kind of vocational training centre we wanted for the Cree School Board.”

Courses offered at the centre presently and in the near future include: carpentry, electro mechanics, welding, heating and refrigeration, hairdressing, computer repair, cooking and nursing.

Sixty students entered four programs this past September and Jolly said that soon they hope to fill the facility to its capacity of 120 students.

“We’re looking into different programs and we’re hoping to be full this year,” said Jolly. “The programs are offered at different times of the year and some courses overlap. It looks like it will be more full and demanding than we anticipated, but we did build it in such a way that we can expand it down the road.”

The centre is open, and can house students from all over Eeyou Istchee. All one has to do is apply.

“We’re trying to offer programs though the vocational training centre that would cater to our students,” he said. “Before, a lot of them would take vocational programs outside the community. Now we’re trying to offer courses that would be adaptable to the Cree studying and also where our Cree students could engage in the programs we offer.”

Courses range from 600 to 1,800 hours and are one or two years in duration. The principal funding is providing by the Ministry of Education via the CSB’s Continuing Education program.

“I think it’s quite an accomplishment for the Cree School Board to have such a facility,” said Jolly. “Just to have it here says a lot for the Cree School Board and the Cree Nation that there is an avenue here for our Cree students.”