Many former students might remember George Blacksmith from his days as principal at Mistissini’s Voyageur Memorial School.

Blacksmith says his experience as an educator helped him to understand the provincial curriculum. He was one of the pioneers in the Cree School Board’s language and cultural programs and studied Quebec’s new educational reform and how to apply it to Cree schools. Blacksmith understands the desire of the Cree to control their own education and make it uniquely theirs. Blacksmith, born in Mistissini in 1950, was forcibly taken away from his parents at the age of nine to attend residential school. Partly as a result of this experience, he has dedicated his working life in Cree education and politics to improve the lives of his people. He loves the traditional way of life and will fight to protect and preserve it at all costs.

Through his years of experience and training in education he has developed high-level skills in administration, management and communications. Blacksmith has obtained various degrees in management and and administration. He has Bachelors and Masters degrees in education.

Blacksmith still believes that education is still the most powerful tool Cree have to help themselves to solve their social problems, eliminate economic disparities and preserve their language and their way of life. He says he learned valuable skills as a negotiator through practical experience with the Cree School Board.

Blacksmith says though that you need university training. “This helped me to understand how the Quebec Ministry of Education and the government worked,” he said. “Importantly it showed me how to work with governments. I think it make me a more capable administrator.”

Blacksmith says he tries to lead by consensus and communication. “This gets things done,” he said. “You believe in the integrity of your people,”

He added that it was their courage, wisdom and tenacity that have been his guiding principles in continuing his education.

Blacksmith is currently working on his PhD in education. He is in the process of writing his comprehensive exam and if successful will go before the Doctoral Review Committee to defend his thesis. If everything goes as planned he has marked June 2005 to complete his Doctorate. Blacksmith’s work may be of interest to lawyers as well educators. It’s entitled The Intergenerational Impacts of the Residential School System on Cree Society: An Investigative Research on the Experiences of Three Generations of the James Bay Cree of Northern Quebec.

If that seems like a mouthful then you have to look at Blacksmith’s experiences. He has outstanding qualifications in administration and management. He has worked for the Cree School Board and the Cree Trappers Association.

“To be successful in education you have to make major sacrifices,” Blacksmith said.

“Studying requires that you give up work and its benefits, make a change in lifestyle and live on meager finances to get through. You sacrifice time with your family and there are missed opportunities of watching your grandchildren growing up. Sometimes you come home and find a loved one gone. In some cases your competence and credentials are questioned by your own people but you have to persevere and not give up. This is the only way to combat the assimilation and colonial practices used on our people.”