The year was 1978, five years after we and the Inuit won a Superior Court battle to stop construction of the James Bay Project. That injunction, despite being overturned a week later, is considered the first modern-day land claim settlement in Canada. Two years later, as part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Cree and Inuit gave up their claim to some of their lands in return for $225 million in compensation, special hunting and fishing rights, and more opportunity for self-government. Three years later – in 1978 – the Cree School Board was born.
The first years were devoted to what we now call “mandeow” style education. “Mandeow” refers to traditional non-native methods. In 1978, it was the only reference point for the newly formed board of education. It was an era of building: infrastructure, thinking, relationships. We built schools and offices, and equipped them for learning.
Soon, it became clear that the Eeyou Eenou identity should be more strongly represented in the education we were offering. We started incorporating our language into the curriculum, which improved the transmission of our cultural heritage. We were unearthing the value of our culture to the future of the Cree Nation and the Cree School Board was responding.
More recently school improvement and student success have been our focus. The Guaranteed Viable Curriculum was developed to honour the three languages of instruction in our schools while ensuring essential skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening and media production. An Office of School Improvement was born, to promote leadership, oversight and reporting, and to encourage collaboration and partnerships.
Forty years after the Cree School Board was born, our new generation of learners is thirsty for relevant and flexible education. And we are ready to meet their demands with a strong Cree curriculum based on traditional values and customs. We do this through consultation, collaboration, and conversation with our partners in the Cree Nation. We develop agile ways of supporting our learners – be it through relevant lessons for our youth with supportive programs unique to our Cree realities, adult education in our communities, vocational training, or financial, social and academic support for students in university and college.
As we celebrate this milestone anniversary at the Regional General Assembly June 5-6 in Eastmain, we look ahead to new partnerships, deeper engagement, and a renewed commitment to our uniquely Cree story.