I take great pleasure in writing to you, a Cree who is embarking on post-secondary study in the south. Your desire to be educated outside of your community suggests much about you. It suggests that you seek knowledge, that you want to enhance your life and the lives of your family, and that you are ready to take risks and face challenges and difficulties. As such, you possess many of the qualities the Cree people need to ensure their growth and prosperity in the world of the 21st century.
Right now, you are probably excited about coming south. And, indeed, this will be a time of great adventure and growth. However, a month or two after your move, you will begin to realize that there are personal sacrifices you will have to make. You and your family if they are with you will miss your friends and family, and the lifestyle you led at home. I recall vividly my feelings of homesickness and uncertainty when I came to study at McGill University in Montreal in 1980.1 felt the strangeness of a new environment and the loss of my old way of life. All of a sudden, I could not jump into my truck or boat and head out hunting or fishing when I felt like it. The privilege of having immediate contact with my family, friends and relatives was no longer there when I needed company, reassurance or moral support. Back then, Cree students did not have the funding, as they do now, to return home three times a year. I was more fortunate than many other Cree students. I had a car, and I was able to go home once a month and during study breaks and holidays. You will find, as I did, adjusting to the south takes time and effort. For some of you, it will take longer and be harder than for others.
Fortunately, there is now help available to you as you adapt to your new way of life. The Cree School Board Post-Secondary Program can provide you with funding, counselling and practical assistance. In 1980, there was no such help for me and my fellow Cree students. I recall going from office to office at McGill trying to find out what to do. The only practical help we had came from students who were a year ahead of us and who had been through the same problems before us. There were student advisors at the university, but they gave us only the most basic information. They did not have the experience or training to deal with Native students and their special needs. Today, you will face many of the situations that we faced, and you will be equally challenged. But your chances of success will be much better, with the support of the Post-Secondary Program. As the co-ordinator of the program, I take great pride in contributing to that support.
At the same time, I want to emphasize that the opportunity you have to be educated brings responsibilities with it. More and more in our communities, the value of formal education is being recognized. College and university learning are taking their place alongside traditional teaching and wisdom. People back home will look up to you because of your education and they will seek your advice and leadership. You must be prepared to continue making sacrifices long after your education is complete. As an educated Cree, you will have an obligation to serve your community and your people as they face the difficult challenges of preserving their culture and improving their living conditions in a complex and difficult world.
During the coming year, I will come to know many of you. You will find that my staff and I are people who care and who want to work with you on a personal basis. Please drop in to our offices in Montreal and Hull whenever you can. We are always eager to talk to you, to help with problems and to learn more about how you feel as you ease into life in the city.
Enjoy the coming year and make the most of it. Your efforts and achievements in your CEGEP, college or university will be accomplishments in which all Crees will take pride.
by George Blacksmith, Co-ordinator of Post-Secondary Programs, Cree School Board