Responding to the needs of the rapidly developing employment market within Eeyou Istchee, it has been a full decade since the Cree School Board opened the Sabtuan Regional Vocational Training Centre in Waswanipi to give Crees the skills they needed to realize their dreams.
“After many years of negotiations and representations on the needs, the Quebec government proceeded to approve the project despite the lack of support from the federal government which is obligated to provide funding for 75% of the costs,” explained Pierre Desjardins, Director of Sabtuan Adult Education Services.
“The decision to locate the facility in Waswanipi followed the receipt of proposals from many communities and one of the key considerations at the time was access by other community residents to the facility. The project included the centre, a student residence accommodating 50 students and eight houses for employees recruited from outside the community.”
According to Desjardins, while the facility originally started out by offering programs like hairdressing and secretarial studies to respond to the needs of local students, heavy equipment programs were later offered to attract students from other communities who wanted to take advantage of mining development and a construction boom.
Since it opened a decade ago, the school has offered a wide range of programs including: Accounting, Auto Mechanic, Carpentry, Cabinet Making, Computing Support, Drilling and Blasting, Fire Arms Repair, Food and Beverages, Health Assistant and Nursing, Heavy Equipment Mechanic, Home Care Assistance, Northern Heavy Equipment Operator, Northern Building Maintenance, Ore Extraction, Plastering, Plumbing and Heating, Professional Cooking, Small Vehicle Mechanic, Starting A Business, Surveying and Topography and Trucking Class I.
And, all of these programs have been offered meeting the guidelines and parameters of provincial standards so that graduates leave with an official diploma from the Ministry of Education (MELS) known as a Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS), or in French, Diplôme d’études professionnelles (DEP).
As a result, because these programs have been adapted to First Nations communities using the provincial standards, Desjardins said there is actually interest from other First Nations looking to access the Cree facilities.
“There has been interest from other First Nations in accessing programs at the facility, so we are reviewing our capacity to work with other groups to assist them,” he said.
According to Desjardins, while the past decade has seen a great deal of program development, there is more to come.
While gaining employment skills has changed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in Eeyou Istchee, the demand for other training centres is increasing.
While Waswanipi will be developing more training specializations for its facility, a new one is about to open in Wemindji and more local program development is underway.
“We need facilities in all the communities and following negotiations and understandings reached between the Grand Chief, the premier and CSB officials with MELS, the School Board submitted plans for a new facility in Mistissini and for the reconstruction of the high school in Chisasibi to accommodate, in part, an Adult Learning and Vocational Programs facility. We are optimistic to secure approvals for these projects since they support the Plan Nord initiatives and will help ensure Cree access to Plan Nord driven jobs,” said Desjardins.
As for Waswanipi, a day of celebrations is in the works that will befit not only the facility but also the many people who have worked behind the scenes to ensure that Crees are empowered to take advantage of their own job market.