During the gala I had a chance to talk to the two contenders for the position of chairperson of the Cree School Board. There will be a run-off election to see whether Daisy Herodier or Kenny Blacksmith will become the first CSB Chairperson to have been elected by all the Cree Nation.
Between 1987 – 1990 Kenny Blacksmith spent three years as the Cree School Board Chairman, one year as a vice-chairman and one as a member of the executive.
What was your greatest accomplishment during your tenure?
I think it was building up the relationship within our people. We had a very difficult task from the beginning. There was a question of whether or not we would be in trusteeship. We had a letter from the government saying we had 30 days to show good management or else. We sent back a letter saying they had thirty days to withdraw their letter or imposition of budgetary rules to the Board because you failed to fulfill your obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to give us the proper funding so we could do education. So we first came in it was very difficult operating with $19 million dollars a year for an annual budget. It was a dismal budget for all nine communities. The school buildings were in deteriation; there was a need for space and resources. We managed to change this through recognition of our strength as a people. We had a determination to achieve the solutions that we desired, not what the government was pressuring us to do. We took control of our vision. Our people had a chance to see we could do things for ourselves and that we became a team. We started the first phase in taking ownership of Cree education.
This is the first time that there is a nationwide election for the chairperson. What do you think of the process that has been put in place?
I think it’s a good method. I think people need to be more aware of the whole process. People seemed to be surprised as to what happened so maybe there should have been more education before. Nevertheless it is a very good system. People have more of a say as to who they will elect to be the chairperson. I hope people know this is a historical time for our people to elect what would be the third leader, who is almost on the same level as the Grand and deputy Grand Chief. People should realize the importance of the position and the mandate that the person elected will be much stronger than in the past. The people will have voiced their choice and a clear indication of whom they want as a leader. This isn’t to say the old style of elections was not. This shows that these are exciting times and changing times. Certainly the people are going to more active in deciding what their needs are.
In your entire platform, what do you feel is the most important part of it?
That would be the community ownership of education. We have the infrastructure in place, perhaps not all the resources we need in terms of funding but it is adequate for the moment and gives us flexibility to run with different programs and different education initiatives that we can embark on. At the same time, education is not infrastructure; education is not just a school building. Education needs to be where people are very much actively involved. Parents are involved and they have to be able to be with their children as they go through the education system. They just can’t send them to a building and think that’s where education is going to be achieved. Education is brought into the building by the people; otherwise it’s just an empty shell. People need to bring the right type of education. So to me the whole aspect of community ownership has got to take on a new meaning. I think there has to be more involvement, innovation in terms of programs and more flexibility. Each community is different so each school will be different. So there will be different needs in each community whether it’s special education, music or culture. Each will have to run at their own pace. So I feel that community ownership in that sense is got to be where people feel this is our education system. We’re going run education the way we think it should be run.
There still has to be regional standards that will be the checks and balances so that the system runs smoothly but we still need that flexibility.
Daisy Herodier is the current Cree School Board Chairperson and has occupied the CSB hot seat for the past four months.
What has been your greatest accomplishment during the time you’ve been at the Cree School Board?
My Greatest accomplishment? I think it’s been putting pedagogies back on the forefront. That’s education, education issues and related issues.
This is the first time that the position of chairman has been voted upon by all the people. What do you think of this?
I have a lot of respect for the decision that the people have taken. I was the commissioner who chaired the consultations on the Cree Education Act. This was one of the things that the people voiced repeatedly. This is what they wanted. They wanted to elect the chairperson for the Cree School Board. This is the first amendment and it is a huge amendment to the Cree Education Act and this is to accommodate the people. We can expect other changes. There is a lot of room for change and we will have to consider the process that we wish to us for the next four years.
Out of your entire election platform, what do you consider the most important part of it?
I think the most important part is to increase the success rate of all of the students whether they are children, people who are in continuing education or post-secondary.
Is there anything you would like to add to that or a message?
Well, not really a message, I’d like to thank everyone, especially those who have supported me throughout the years and continue to support. I know I’m saying this a little bit ahead of schedule but I’d like to congratulate all the students that successfully completed their grades or their programs this year.