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New adult learning centre demonstrates the Cree School Board’s cultural responsiveness

On October 28, 2021, the Cree School Board and Sabtuan Adult Education Services formally opened the Mistissini Sabtuan Learning Centre (MSLC) to the community.

Cree School Board leadership, including Caroline Mark, Director General, Andy Baribeau, Deputy Director General (Interim), Minnie Loon, Mistissini Commissioner, and respected Elder Thomas Coon attended the grand opening and were joined by Nian Matoush, Director of Adult Education, the Sabtuan Adult Education Services team, MSLC students and employees, and regional employees from the Board’s head office.

As you know, many of our Elders experienced residential schools, and the school buildings at the time they were created did not take consultations to the community,” Mark said, “now, we make sure that our people have a voice in education and learning”.

Cree culture is woven throughout the architecture and was a driving factor in its design. Culturally significant characteristics include the entrance design, which points to the east as the custom with all traditional dwellings, the central location of the atrium, the artwork prepared by local artists, and the addition of the Elders' room.

The director general continued her remarks, “as a leader in Eeyou education, I want to see our people choose to live in the community, so they can speak their language, practice their culture and contribute to the Cree Nation as a whole. This building is the right step toward making that happen.”

Georges Lemieux and Catherine Gélineau, officials of the Ministry of Education, attended by video conference. Cree Nation of Mistissini officials, including Deputy Chief Gerald Longchap and Youth Chief Justice Debassige, also attended the ceremony.

New Beginnings and Programming

While the Centre is a place for realizing the Cree School Board’s adult education goals, it also represents how Sabtuan Adult Education Services is prioritizing the provision of culturally meaningful programs and services.

One notable pilot project is the Iyeskuwiiu Springboard Program, a preparatory to post-secondary education program developed in partnership between Sabtuan Adult Education Services and John Abbott College.

The program is fully online except for two land-based Physical Education courses. The first Physical Education course was held at the Cree Culture Tours in Oujé-Bougoumou. Students had the opportunity to learn and demonstrate the important roles and responsibilities that come with being in the bush, such as site cleanliness, wood splitting and stocking the cabins. In addition to the physical aspects of bush life, students learned about the healing properties of plants found in the bush. “I learned how to make cough medicine, now when I get a cold, I’ll know what to do” said Katelyn MacLeod, a student from Mistissini.

Our culture is very important and there is a lot to learn,” Elder Anna Bosum said, “I’m glad to offer them a glimpse of it.” 

While the Iyeskuwiiu Springboard Program is not available at the MSLC, the future of Sabtuan Adult Education Services will be brighter as a result of the new Centre, which will allow for the development of new programs in collaboration with other educational institutions or the delivery of culturally relevant programs in the community. The next Physical Education course will take place in Chisasibi in the New Year.