After sitting on the shelf and collecting dust for five years, the idea of a Cree Education Act is being back brought to life.

Cree parents soon may be able to elect the Chairman of the Cree School Board, Elders could have a seat on school committees, parental rights and the priority of Cree would be recognized.

These and many other changes have been proposed by Crees for many years, but the Cree School Board hasn’t been able to act on all of them during its “growing pain” years.

Now the time has come to modernize the legislation governing the education of Cree kids and to seek more self-government powers in this area, says Paul Gull, coordinator of the Cree Education Act and long-time ex-Chair of the Cree School Board.

“The structure we have now is based on a foreign system,” said Gull. “Right now, we’re accountable to the Ministry of Education,” he added, whereas the Cree Education Act will make the School Board accountable to the people.

Gull said Cree education is now governed by the outdated Quebec Education Act of 1978, which itself isn’t even consistent with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

In the last 20 years, Quebec’s Education Act has been reformed in major ways, but the Crees have always opted to stay out of the reforms because of the uncertain implications they could have had on Cree rights.

In 1989, the Cree School Board set up a committee to look at modernizing the laws governing Cree education. In 1991, the committee reported back that a Cree Education Act should be devised to take into account Cree values.

The last three Quebec Education Ministers have agreed with this idea, but it went nowhere because the School Board was preoccupied with other matters— getting its finances in order and its schools in shape, and getting the Cree culture and language program off the ground.

Now, said Gull, the time has come to start consulting Crees on what they’d like to see in a Cree Education Act. “If you look at the Quebec Education Act, it’s all French first—whereas with the Crees it would be Cree first,” he said.

Consultations were tentatively scheduled to start in Eastmain on July 30 and continue in the other communities and Senneterre in August.

“It won’t happen overnight,” Gull said, adding that consultations will hopefully address the question of “how much do you take from what exists today and how much do you add from what people are saying.”

Gull said another question is if the Chairman of the School Board is elected by the people rather than by the Council of Commissioners, as is done today, will this give the Chairman too much political power?

Stay tuned.