The Cree Nation of Mistissini is now strictly enforcing a minimum of 70% school attendance for students who want to play hockey or broomball both at home and in tournaments.

John S. Matoush, the Mistissini Band Councilor who is in charge of the recreation file for the community, said that the policy has been strictly enforced since last March after they heard how students were not attending classes to participate in sporting events.

Gordon Blackned, the Cree School Board chair, first brought this up with the Nation magazine last winter and said at the time that it was at times the parents of these children who would pull them out of school to bring their children to regional tournaments.

At the Annual General Assembly held in Mistissini in August, the CSB compounded the facts by presenting actual statistics on student attendance and how it was affective their academic performance.

According to these statistics presented at the AGA by the CSB:

• In terms of graduation, approximately on 10% of students complete Secondary 5 after the standard five years required for it and some schools did not have any graduates in 2008 or 2009;

• In the last year, the dropout rate rose from 2.3% to 4.6% with 172 students leaving high school before completion of secondary studies;

• That absenteeism is astoundingly high in the Cree communities with instances of students missing 60-70 days of school per year in some communities.

According to Matoush, the policy has always existed however it was not enforced until the Cree Nation Hockey Tournament in Val-d’Or last March where several players were benched because of their poor school attendance.

“There are some parents who are angry because they were impacted by the policy. There is a hope that the parents will understand and come around and say that the policy is good for the kids,” said Matoush.

The Cree Nation of Mistissini also sent a letter to the CSB to explain that they were enforcing this policy and also attempting to schedule tournaments so that they are more accommodating to school schedules.

In the long run Matoush said that he hopes this policy will not only help the community’s athletes perform better academically but also possibly influence others within the Cree communities to do so. As many of the student athletes are also role models in the community, he said that this policy could have a ripple effect.

“We want to encourage them and let them know that there are rules that you have to abide by in order to be successful. This is the kind of support we want to give them in being the best they can be and we think it will also have a positive impact on their peers,” said Matoush.

At the same time, Matoush said that the 70% attendance policy is pretty light considering the fact that in the south of Quebec, many communities have policies in place that require a mandatory 85-90% attendance rating to participate in school or regional athletics.

Matoush said that they are starting out slowly right now whereas the policies could be stepped up a great deal more.

“We are not really looking at the academics per se right now; we could have gone further and said that they would need a passing mark of 60% or 75%. Right now we are just focusing on attendance but I think that we will be applying a minimum passing mark for each student to have in order to qualify to play sports,” said Matoush.

Though this is not something that the community is looking to impose right away, Matoush said it really could be an eventuality.

The community of Mistissini is also hoping that this policy catches on in other communities so that the entire Cree Nation is enforcing the same mandatory attendance policy for the betterment of the youth.