There’s good news and bad news in the latest annual report from the Cree School Board.
A new school opened in Ouje-Bougoumou, the Wiinibekuu Eeyou School in Waskaganish got an extension, the schools in Whapmagoostui and Eastmain will soon have extensions too and Quebec has agreed to Cree demands for a Cree Education Act.
Another success is the Cree Culture and Language Program. Grade One classes in Cree were offered last year in Waskaganish and Chisasibi, and the graduates are going on to take Grade Two Cree this year. Four other communities will start Grade One classes this year.
Schools in Waswanipi, Wemindji and Chisasibi got new computers. A growing number of Crees—400 to be exact—are pursuing CEGEP and university education. And the Cree School Board has hired more Crees in its own workforce under the Cree Replacement Process. Now, 335 Crees, or 57 percent of the total, is Cree.
But there is a downside that the school board does not try to hide. Janie Pachano, the board’s director-general, writes in the report that Cree society is in “turmoil,” and that the youth are hurting. She says the school board can’t deal with all the problems itself and needs help from the rest of the Cree society.
That’s an important theme in the report, which is entitled, “Partners in Education.” Janie explains this idea in her message. “In ensuring our physical needs are being met, many of us have forgotten our mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Many of us no longer live or pass on the values that kept our ancestors strong and created a society to be admired,” she writes. “As a result of straying from our roots, our society today is in a turmoil.”
Janie goes on to acknowledge that many Cree adults face the same confusion and pain as the youth. She concedes that Cree institutions and the Band Councils often lack the money to pay for all the programs that Crees need. But she emphasizes that Cree youth mustn’t be forgotten in the midst of the turmoil. She calls on parents, the bands and Cree institutions to join the school board “as partners in education.”
School board chairman Paul Gull echoes this theme. “We invite parents, grandparents, youth, Elders, all men and women, teachers and Cree leadership to walk together as partners in education,” he writes. “The Cree Nation will be stronger for it.”
One of the main problems requiring a joint effort from all Crees is the high student drop-out rate. Last year, Janie toured all nine communities meeting with students, parents, administrators and others to discuss the problem.
The report concludes that students drop out for several reasons: They think education isn’t relevant, they believe the Cree education system is “substandard,” they are too busy coping with the severe social problems facing the Cree communities and there is a lack of parental involvement in the school system. Also at fault is the lack of regular testing to determine students’ physical and learning disabilities.
The school board has launched interesting ideas to fight the drop-out problem like hiring a psychologist and bringing in guest youth. But says Janie, the board needs your help. “Social problems that confront our students cannot be solved by the Cree School Board alone, but require the intervention of the family, the community and other institutions such as the Cree Health Board.”