“My true goal is to be a pilot,” shared Sec. 1 student Michael Mark at the 25th Annual Public Speaking contest held in Wemindji on April 4. “When you get back on the ground you can still feel the greatness of the sky.” Michael also told a crowded house that he’d love to have a family one day, and that he’d “be there” for them all of his life.

With the largest turnout and the highest participation ever seen, 29 students from Maquatua Eeeyou School shared their dreams and ideas as proud parents, grandparents, cousins, teachers, friends and neighbours listened in rapt attention.

The event organizers, Cree language teacher Theresa Kakabat Georgekish and Cree history teacher Carmen Faries, attribute this year’s exceptional number of student speakers to the Cree School Board’s increased curriculum emphasis on oral presentation.

“All teachers have been asked to integrate oral expression into every aspect of academic life. Perhaps what we are seeing tonight are the results of that educational mandate,” said Georgekish. “In addition, I am really happy that our Grade 3 and 4 students participated in the Cree language category of this contest. I am so proud of them.”

Faries, whose warm smile reassured each student who approached the stage to speak, noted that the event is an excellent opportunity for students to present themselves to their community. In turn, the community learns what the youth are thinking about and who they are becoming. Faries said that public speaking is a skill that develops over time. Students become adept with practice and public speaking offers opportunities for students to become involved.

“Funny, I can play hockey with my team in front of a crowd at the arena for hours on end, but standing in front of a lone microphone all by myself for 10 minutes is a whole different ball game,” said one rather drained participant after the event.

“I could not possibly be more proud of my class,” enthused English teacher Sylvia Sampson, adding that her students Wanda Miniquaken, Tanner Lameboy, Michael Mark, Hannah Hardisty and Jewel Blackned wrote their speeches entirely by themselves. “This is exciting because independent work is the true mark of accomplishment.”

Sampson, a teacher at Maquatua Eeyou School, observed that part of the accomplishment of public speaking is in dealing well with feelings of exposure. “It’s because our students handled that vulnerability with confidence, that they deserve our admiration,” she explained.

Following a lengthy evaluation process, judges chose Grade 2 student Keanu Atsynia as the first-place winner in the elementary level. He spoke about Saturn, his favourite planet because of the many rings around it. First-place winner at the secondary level was Samuel Robertson. His speech, liberally laced with humour, centred on the idea of Wemindji 100 years from now – with battery-run geese radar tracking devices, solar-powered automatic hunters, and finally, more seriously, Quebec becoming a First Nations-run country all of its own. The audience loved it!

At the close of the successful evening, Maquatua Eeyou School Principal Rose Marie Farago congratulated every student and thanked Faries and Georgekish for organizing such a high-impact community event, one that brought pride and pleasure to our school and to the Cree Nation of Wemindji.

Below is the list of proud Maquatua Eeyou winners of the 25th Regional Public Speaking Contest:

Cycle One Category:
1st place winner:
Mary Jane Miniquaken
2nd place winner: Nikita Mayappo and Morgan Stewart (a tie)
3rd place winner:
Billie Mistacheesick
People’s Choice Award Winner: Nikita Mayappo

Cree Language Category:
1st place winner: Delilah Stephen
2nd place winner: Hailey Georgekish
3rd place winner: Kyla Georgekish
People’s Choice Award:
Hailey Georgekish

Cycle Two Category:
1st place winner: Jessika Danyluk
2nd place winner: Dawn Murdoch
3rd place winner: Keanu Atsynia
People’s Choice Award Winner: Keanu Atsynia

Cycle Three Category:
1st place winner:
Dominique Houde
2nd place winner: Justin MacDonald
3rd place winner:
Marie-Alice Tremblay
People’s Choice Award Winner: Marie Alice Tremblay

Secondary School Category
1st place winner: Samuel Robertson
2nd place winner: Tanner Sabbe
3rd place winner: Emelia Gilpin
Secondary People’s Choice Award winner: Mike Mark