Val-d’Or – The Niskamoon Corporation held its annual golf tourney July 30 and celebrated the four graduates of its vocational program. After 18 holes of golf at a course located just outside of town, the grads were honoured with an evening gala. There they were commended for all their hard work as their achievements will go a long way in helping their communities.

The gala opened with an address from Niskamoon President Billy Diamond who said he was determined to be there after suffering a stroke 15 months earlier and he was glad to see that same determination within each grad. “Your determination turned into faith and faith into hope, that is what you graduates are about. You have determined to pursue a career in a very different world, the world of Hydro-Québec.”

Kathy Shecapio, Niskamoon’s Regional Coordinator of Training and Employment, spoke about a sense of community and family and how proud she was of Niskamoon’s genuine respect for everything community and staying true to the people. “In order to build a Nation, you have to build up people and that is what our training programs are about. This is what this program is all about, getting people from the communities into the mainstream workforce and improving the quality of life.”

CreeCo chairman Jack Blacksmith – who earlier had played a really good game of golf – commented on how proud he was of the new grads and of Niskamoon’s continued work. “They (the grads) go through the same courses Hydro employees do. They have to go do the same hard work and attain the same kinds of standards, so only the best go into this course.”

The grads themselves were happy about finishing the program, which for some lasted as long as two years. Two years of travelling between Val-d’Or and their respective communities, driving through snow and rain, and leaving early and getting home late. They all wanted to thank their families for their patience during the time they were taking the program.

For Norman Kitchen, who has a growing family, graduating came as a blessing. “My children will have a stronger future now that I am with Hydro and that is the most important thing for me.”

All of the grads are looking forward to getting started. They will now head off to their respective jobs safe in the knowledge that their futures are secure and their communities are stronger.

Event coordinator Melissa Brousseau was happy about the day’s turnout and proud of the grads for their hard work. “The event itself went off without a hitch, the weather cooperated unlike the last two years when it rained. But even then, people came out because they believed in the grads.”

The importance of programs like this one cannot be measured, says Rosanna Shecapio another of the grads who has a family. “Over the last two years we have worked so hard so to finally graduate is a blessing.”

Claude Major, La Grande River’s regional director from Hydro-Québec, spoke about the continuing relationship between Hydro and the Cree. He pointed out how important it was to put the past behind us and build a strong future for all the people involved and he hoped to see more and more graduates coming through the ranks to hold positions within Hydro-Québec.

Gordon Blackned, the chairperson of the Cree School Board, talked about building relationships and growth. “I am very grateful for the support of all the staff and students, for if it wasn’t for them, this would probably never have happened.”

The evening drew many laughs and much applause. Joseph Iserhoff provided the comic relief at the end of the night and rocked the house. I must admit that I haven’t laughed that hard in quite some time.

The general response from the guests was pride – pride for the graduates and the Cree Nation. Most commented how important this event was for the Cree. The celebration of family and community was everywhere and, in the end, that is what’s important.

So now the four graduates move on, and next year, more will come and then move on to be part of the 150 jobs that Hydro-Québec has made available in the deal with Niskamoon. Those involved hope to accomplish this by 2017, but after seeing this year’s crop, that shouldn’t be a problem.