Traditionally, Cree youth have learned all they needed to know from their families while living on the land. As hunter-trappers-gatherers, we needed to learn the skills necessary to survive on the land – hunting, trapping, sewing, cooking, etcetera, and we learned these skills as part of their life on the land.
With the arrival of the Europeans, the modern history of Indigenous people living in North America changed, as did the course of their education. Cree youth were taken from the land and placed them into formal schools where they would, it was thought, learn the skills necessary to survive in modern European-based culture.
In the James Bay territory, Catholic and Anglican missionaries controlled schooling until the 1960s, when they were replaced by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
The climate of politics in Canada was beginning to change in the 1970s, as Indigenous leaders advocated for acknowledgment of their rights and freedoms. Such was the case when native leaders pushed back against hydro development on the eastern coast of James Bay.
From this effort was born the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. As the first modern land treaty agreement in Canada, the JBNQA (1975) gave the government permission to develop in return for recognition of independence along with funding so that the Cree people living in Eeyou Istchee could take back control of their governance – including education.
In 1978, the Cree School Board was officially constituted under a clause in the Quebec Education Act that would later become the Education Act for Cree, Inuit and Naskapi Native Persons.
The early years of the Cree School Board were challenging: infrastructure was needed, government funding was insufficient, and the student population was growing faster than anticipated.
Early Cree School Board leaders negotiated again for more funding, for better processes, and for a solid foundation that not only prepared Cree youth for their futures as Canadians, but also instilled the values, beliefs and practices inherent to Cree culture.
Today, the CSB has the exclusive mandate to provide students residing in Eeyou Istchee with pre-school, elementary and secondary education and to support them in their pursuit of post-secondary education, adult education and vocational training.