The purpose of the evening was to acknowledge those who had left their communities and moved to Montreal to pursue higher learning.

Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff and CREECO’s communications officer Jonathan Saganash rounded up Montreal’s top-performing Cree students for a night of fine Japanese cuisine at Toyo, not only to acknowledge their academic efforts, but to give them a respite from school stress before the exam crunch started. Attending the meal were Francis Meskino, Enomey Masty, Bella Blacksmith, Ginette Rojas, Louise Macleod, Ginette Rojas, Stephanie Landry Wapachee, Amanda T. Sam, Rachelle Lafond and Joshua Loon.

“It was really important for CREECO, the Board of Compensation and the Cree Regional Authority for you to be here tonight because we like to do these kinds of little things. It’s a tradition that started many years ago by the late Stephen Blacksmith and the late Albert Diamond. Every year they would go to North Bay, Ottawa and Montreal to take the students out because you guys are the future of the nation,” said Saganash, toasting his invitees.

Saganash spoke first to the students in recognition of their academic success but also to say a big thank you to them for what they have sacrificed in order to go to school. Some of them have struggled as single parents while keeping up with class work, others have left behind families, communities and culture that they are homesick for.

At the same time, Saganash wanted to remind these students that upon completion of their studies, the Cree Nation, and CREECO in particular, will always be looking to welcome them home with open arms and waiting jobs.

Likening their struggles to get through school with witnessing his own parents’ struggle to graduate from university, Iserhoff expressed how much he looks up to those who have made the sacrifice and endured the hard work.

“I wanted to show my appreciation to people who are going to school. I can say that I envy where you guys are at today and I really want to encourage you with your education. They say the youth are our future, but young people are here today and we have to help you find ways to make it to where you want to go with what you are studying. We want to build you up for the future and this is one way of saying keep going, don’t give up no matter what you’re facing while you’re in school,” said Iserhoff.

Having cut his own studies in Public Administration at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue short because he was elected to the position of Deputy Chief in 2005, Iserhoff said he has always had completing his studies in mind. He even said he might pursue medical studies once he is no longer in political office though he wished to steer away from the field of proctology.

Going around the table, the students talked about how grateful they were to be able to pursue their studies and each one of them had the intention of contributing back to Cree society once they were in their respective careers.

Enomey Masty, who has taken on a double major at Concordia University in Anthropology and Sociology, said she chose this path because of her desire for a challenge and, with a giggle, her admiration for Indiana Jones movies. With her education she hopes to one day be a business owner but also form some sort of humanitarian organization for the Cree Nation.

“I am taking a course in the political economics of food and that has really pushed me into the sustainable development area in the north in terms of agriculture because of global warming,” said Masty.

Joshua Loon, who is studying Business Management and Marketing at Vanier College, said his studies were all about improving local economies for the Crees within the communities.

“In Mistissini, I used to work at the True Value and a lot of the people would go to Chibougamau to buy the exact same product because it would be a dollar cheaper and they would get better service. So we need to advertise Cree businesses. You never know, you could attract customers from different provinces or other nations, like the Montagnais. We also need to exchange ideas so that businesses develop and make more profit,” said Loon.

Once the bellies were filled and an incessant amount of laughter was shared, Saganash and Isheroff reminded the students to keep on working hard and not to give up so that the two of them can once again look forward to taking these students out to celebrate more successes.