"Opening the door to endless possibilities." That was the call to action that began the second Higher Education Roundtable in Chisasibi on September 30, 2019.
The group was invited to gather to continue the conversation about the viability of a CEGEP located in Chisasibi. The purpose is to offer higher education opportunities in Chisasibi so that students would not have to travel south to advance their education.
"If there are no big dreams, there are no big accomplishments."
Grand Chief Abel Bosum spoke about encouraging our youth to "dream big" and then to help them attain those dreams.
"We now have Cree accountants, Cree lawyers, Cree doctors . . . We can do it, all of us working together to support our youth," he said. "If there are no big dreams, there are no big accomplishments."
Members of the group working on developing a Cree CEGEP presented data pointing to the importance of filling the gap in the labour force in Eeyou Istchee by ensuring youth have as few barriers to higher education as possible - barriers like distance and culture.
"I am a firm believer that collaboration is really key."
Cree School Board Chairperson Sarah Pash praised the Chisasibi leadership for moving the discussions forward.
"I am a firm believer that collaboration is really key to moving forward in terms of providing for the educational needs of our communities," she said, noting that "we have no choice but to continue being innovative in our initiatives to meet the needs that are before us."
"We must make education happen for our Cree Nation."
Director General Abraham Jolly affirmed his belief that Eeyou Istchee is poised to have the best Indigenous education system anywhere in Canada if leaders, communities, schools, and families work together. He noted that a feasibility study and further exploration of logistics of a Cree college is ongoing.
Recognizing the history of education for many Crees includes the failed residential schools, Jolly said Crees can have a strong and bright future.
"We have every opportunity to bring everything back," he said. "Let's get our language back; let's get our communities back. Let's fill the jobs, and train Crees for our high-level positions. Then, you will start to see a fully functioning society here in the Cree Nation."
"We must make education happen for our Cree Nation," he added.
"We could be the greatest education story in all of Canada and North America."
The message from former Grand Chief Ted Moses to the group of about 60 people was simple: you need to have the tools in order to be successful.
"We don't have to wait for students to be in college," he said. "We can start in Pre-K/K. The youth need all the building blocks in order for them to be successful later."
"We could be the greatest education story in all of Canada and North America," he added, "and it must be a partnership with the school board, community, and parents."
Tuesday's sessions were to focus on strategic planning.