On September 18, our student association attended your commissioners’ meeting at the new site for the Post-Secondary School offices in Montreal. Our intentions were to meet with anyone who would listen to our reasons for opposing the moving of the offices. We were successful in that you acknowledged us as students who had found it hard to accept your decision to place us further away from our colleges and universities.
The feeling of disapproval and, perhaps, offensiveness we felt was not what we expected. We had come as one body of students to express our needs and our feelings. Instead I felt that I was a “bad girl” who had stepped out of line.
I thought I was practicing my freedom of expression and I had hoped you would welcome the challenge that we presented to you. Not at any time had I felt that I was treading on forbidden waters. Our presentation was met by a group of commissioners who would not smile, openly showed their disapproval and rattled off more political reasons why it was necessary to relocate their offices.
What does the post-secondary office mean to me? When I first came to Montreal to attend school, I knew nothing about the city. Since I was 51 years old, I didn’t have parents to help me get settled in. I found friends who let me stay with them until we moved into an apartment. I must have been at the post-secondary office every day asking questions, being directed in the right direction, and with the help of the Student Affairs Technician, I found a school for my granddaughter to attend.
I needed help to take a metro and to register for my courses. In the first month I lost 20 lbs. running from place to place. All the while, the post-secondary staff and second- and third-year students became resource persons I rely on.
After establishing myself in classes and a routine, I began to find out what university was all about. One month in and I was discouraged. I phoned home to tell my husband I wasn’t smart enough to attend university and I was coming home. He encouraged me to stay another month. Shortly after this, as I sat in the library of the post-secondary office, trying to sort through what I felt was a mountain of work, a student approached me and asked how I was doing. I told him I was discouraged and would probably go home. Concerned, he sat down and encouraged me to stay. “Even if you fail a couple of subjects, don’t stop, keep going, things will change. I felt like you did when I first came here. The things to do is to keep going and don’t quit. You are not stupid.” This was something I could accept and understand. He was a student and he made me feel I should keep trying. Since then, I have had the chance to encourage more than one student in the same way. This is support.
Many times we long for the familiar sounds of home and it does not take much to depress us. Being together means sharing the same feelings and knowing what each one is going through. The post-secondary office is the place where we go between classes to work on our assignments, photocopy and to use the library. It is also a place where we eat our lunch and have coffee breaks.
My mother died last summer. I was taking a summer course when she came to Montreal. I eventually dropped the course as she began to decline. I returned home with my siblings and family. In August I returned to write the test for the course I took during that time. The post-secondary office staff showed their concern by encouraging me and being there as I mourned the loss of my mother. Without their support, I would have collapsed. I continued school in September, entering into a difficult year of internship. In November, my husband had a heart attack and I was in the middle of writing up assignments due before Christmas. The post-secondary office kept in touch with me and with their help I was able to delay my studies until I returned in January. I returned in January with my husband who was not fully recovered and took up my winter courses at the same time. The post-secondary office staff, again, was there with its support.
The day I wrote my last assignment and finally caught up with my winter assignments, my husband became ill and I took him to the hospital. Two days later, I collapsed in the post-secondary office. It was the only place I could think of to go where I knew people cared and would give me the support I needed to continue.
It is possible most students may never go through their studies with as much crisis as I have, but if they do, I hope that the support is still there.
Our goal as students is to make life in the city easier for those students who will follow us. I can see my goal of obtaining a Bachelor of Education degree in the near future. The post-secondary office in Montreal has been my lifeline. A place where as a student I meet other students, guidance counsellors, student technicians and other staff who I can call by name. They are my family and friends. When I received my first good mark (higher than a B), I felt like a child bringing home her report card. My family was not there for me to share the news with them.
I live in a very good, safe neighbourhood and my neighbours in the apartment building are friendly and very helpful. I have made friends with some of them. Still, I cannot form a close relationship with them because my hours and lifestyle as a student do not coincide with theirs.
To return to school in my fifties was a choice I made thinking I would have more to offer my community even in my mature years. I have always respected Cree traditions and the leaders of our communities.
I voted for our Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come because I believed he was fair and just in his service to our people. I still believe this to be true and I hope he will see that we never came with the intention to defy, but rather practice our right to question decisions on issues we believe do not meet our needs. I believe, in doing so, we will give our commissioners a challenge to become aware that, as students, we are not subdued and oppressed but rather exercising a newfound knowledge to explore into horizons that we have never tread before.
I believe the students who took part in the demonstration to question the decision of the commissioners will immerge as pioneers to a new era of Crees, ones who will keep the Cree tradition alive yet will give to it strength and confidence to build a better and more secure Cree Nation. Isn’t this the aim of the Post-Secondary Program? Meet the challenge! Don’t blow out the torch.
Dorothy MacLeod-Nicholls is a student at Concordia University in the Teaching English as a Second Language Program.