Parents and elders need to get more involved in the Cree education system to solve the many problems facing the territory’s schools, says the Cree School Board.

The school board submitted a report to the general assembly of the Grand Council of the Crees that says Cree schools suffer from a lack of parental involvement, high rates of absenteeism and apathy among students, poor quality Cree culture and language programs, and a lack of resources. The report follows a year-long review of the Cree school system.

But not all the news is bad. The number of Crees attending post-secondary institutions doubled over the last five years, reaching a record total of 350 students last year. Over 60 Crees graduated from post-secondary schools last year.

Nonetheless, the report’s authors, school board chair Paul Gull and director-general Janie Pachano, express deep concern about the many challenges facing the education system. “The purpose of this report is to highlight the negative so people can see what we are facing, not just as a school board but as a nation.”

Gull and Pachano cite alarming statistics to highlight the problems. For every 100 Cree children who enter Grade 1, only 17 finish Secondary V. In one Cree high school, students cut classes 30 per cent more often than the Quebec average.

“Too many of our dropouts don’t seem to have any purpose in life,” say Gull and Pachano. “Too many of them turn to alcohol and drugs; too many of them end up taking their own lives because they can find no alternative. They see their future as a bleak one, as one with no hope. We must come up with solutions that will help these children who drop out, while at the same time encouraging those who want to continue their education.”

The authors add, “If we can turn out happy and productive children, we will have succeeded in our mission, even if students continue to drop out at alarming rates.” The school board is continuing efforts to study the dropout problem.

The quality of Cree culture and language education also came in for criticism. “There is not a single community that is satisfied with the quality of what we are offering in the way of Cree culture and language. What we are offering is a very superficial view of culture,” say Gull and Pachano. “Cree culture was never meant to be restricted to the classroom because what is part of our culture comes from the land and that is where the lessons for Cree culture are, not in a classroom.”

To solve this problem, Gull and Pachano add, more involvement is needed from the elders. The school board is closely watching two pilot Cree language projects, one in Waskaganish and one in Chisasibi, as possible models for other communities.

Gull and Pachano also express concern about “the general lack of interest that our students have shown in progressing beyond a certain level, not just in school but in their daily lives.” They say students need “a more relevant curriculum; that is, something that the students could relate to.”

Finally, the authors observe that many Cree parents feel they are “not welcome” in the schools. This feeling, they add, is partly a result of language barriers between parents and teachers.

Improving the quality of education will require a concerted effort by Cree parents and elders, band councils, the health board and other Cree institutions, conclude Gull and Pachano.

“We have depended on outside resources for too long. Let us help our own people to get the education required to help us so we can truly run our own lives again in the future.”