It was a long and winding road through academia for Darren MacLeod before he finally received the distinguished accreditation of Certified Management Accountant from CMA Ontario. Only one other Cree from Eeyou Istchee has ever achieved this level of success in this field, providing a good reason for celebration for MacLeod and his clan and the rest of the Cree nation.

What makes MacLeod’s story so notable however isn’t so much that he went to school, applied himself and received the certification, but that his pursuit of this goal began in 1996. After countless roadblocks along the way and with much perseverance, the objective was finally achieved in 2012 – 16 years later.

“There are so many steps involved in becoming a CMA. It was in July that I found out that I would be getting my CMA. It’s hard to say how I felt, but I was finally doing something that I never thought I was going to be able to do. There were so many times that I thought that there was no way that I could do this. Even when I was going through the CMA program I felt this way, but eventually it happened,” said MacLeod.

His journey began in Mistissini, where he attended the French-language program at Voyageur Memorial School. Then at the age of 14, MacLeod went to live with his aunt in London, Ontario, to attend London Christian Academy for Grades 9-10 and moved again to Timmins, Ontario where he completed Grades 12-13.

He then applied to university, and was accepted by the University of Toronto. While it was his goal to study Commerce, there were a few prerequisite courses that he needed before getting into that program.

But, things did not go to plan.

“My first few years in Toronto I was all by myself and I wasn’t getting the kinds of marks that I wanted to get. There were also courses that I failed which resulted in me not being able to get into the Commerce program.

“I spent two years trying to get into the program and after a while I gave up because there was just no way I was going to get in,” said Macleod.

Frustrated, MacLeod spoke to a guidance counselor who told him that perhaps Finance just wasn’t his field. She suggested taking a different path if he really wanted to go into the field.

In order to salvage his time in Toronto, Macleod transferred into another program and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 2001 with a double minor in Politics and History.

“After graduating I knew I still wanted to go into accounting because throughout high school math was my strongest subject and so I decided to go back to college,” said Macleod.

So Macleod enrolled in Algonquin College’s three-year Business Administration program, majoring in Accounting.

It was there that he finally started to get the high marks he once had in high school and regained his confidence, graduating in 2004.

From there MacLeod decided to take a second crack at the commerce degree he had originally wanted to do at the U of T, but this time he decided to do it at the University of Ottawa.

While it’s a four-year program, having already studied in the field, MacLeod was put into the third year of the program. Completing a four-year program in two-and-a-half years wasn’t without its share of strife. There were certain courses he had difficulty with and one he didn’t pass the first time around.

“Sometimes I would think that maybe that guidance counselor was right, maybe I can’t do this. I was trying hard and studying hard and getting all of the help that I could get and I was also building up my relationships with my classmates and they would help me out from time to time, and I eventually finished the program in 2006,” said MacLeod.

At this point he decided to put his books aside and head back to Mistissini, the community he had left so many years ago, and become a coordinator of finance with the Cree School Board.

However, the itch to remount that academic horse returned and, despite his struggles, MacLeod decided he wasn’t done yet, wanting to achieve the prestige of becoming a CMA.

This too wasn’t without difficulty. MacLeod originally applied to the Quebec CMA order in 2009 but did not make it past the exam to start the process.

Not letting this deter him, he transferred his file to Ontario where he was able to take a refresher course and pass the board exam in that province in 2010. From there another two years of hard work began to get his certification.

Then in July MacLeod finally learned that he would indeed become only the second Cree in James Bay to become a CMA.

Alas, all of his hard work had paid off, but it came at a price.

“There were times when I really couldn’t socialize because I had to do assignments. Sometimes my wife would want to go away for a weekend and I couldn’t because I was studying. I had these huge assignments to do and I had to push everything aside and focus on them.

“When I told my daughter I was going to get my CMA, her response was ‘Okay, so what’s next?’ This is because all she ever saw me do was study all of the time and be surrounded by a pile of books,” said Macleod.

Today, MacLeod can stand tall as he looks back on the 16 years that it took him to reach his goal. One thing he never did during that time was give up on his dream.