Thanks to the hard work of our employees and the collaboration of our many partners, we have successfully implemented many different programs, ranging from the training of Crees for skilled jobs with Hydro-Quebec (over 50 Crees now occupy permanent positions), the rejuvenation of Cree community and family fisheries, the support of numerous cultural activities including summer gatherings and the enhancement of goose hunting facilities. This is not to mention the hundreds of kilometres of snowmobile and ATV trails already built throughout Eeyou Istchee.
On its 20th anniversary, Niskamoon Corporation salutes The Nation magazine and wishes it many more years of success and positive change.
Helping the Kids
The Montreal Fluency Centre is using Cree culture to improve children’s communication skills
The Montreal Fluency Centre (MFC) has been working with the Cree School Board (CSB) for the past three to four years and providing services for children with communication disorders. This past summer, the MFC completed its second workshop in Montreal.
Executive director Dr. Rosalee Shenker, who was part of the project this summer, discussed the MFC’s mission. “Our mandate is to develop a good support staff that can work with us over distance and can also help us when we're in the communities to work with the children, especially when the language of education is in Cree,” she said. “We need to develop materials in the Cree language.”
Shenker spoke about the importance of including Cree culture and stories, the ways of thinking and living, the belief and cultural systems, and information relevant to the community at large. The MFC got involved when the Cree communities decided that they needed someone on a permanent basis but were having problems because there are so few speech pathologists in Quebec. According to Shenker, there are at least 40 positions in Quebec that are not filled.
Several years ago, the MFC was invited to consult with the CSB and community members, and find people who would interested in this kind of work. “The first thing I did when I took this project on, was talking to people who had experience in the communities about what I should be doing, kind of like a needs assessment,” explained Shenker.
“We spent the first year of our consultant contract just getting to know people and the families. We asked a lot of questions and met the kids to find out what the community wanted and what some of the problems might be, such as the communication problems some the kids had. We then spent a lot of time trying to develop ways which we could create programs in Cree, which is often the first language for most of the kids. Then we talked to the teachers who told us what we needed to change so the program would work.”
The following year, the CSB asked the MFC to hold a training workshop which would eventually become a position called a Cree communication aide. The MFC wanted to improve on certain areas and decided on a second workshop to focus on Cree stories and songs. These activities were turned into materials that teachers could use evaluate the children.
“We learned so much from the teachers who came to Montreal. They taught us more that we taught them. That's where we are right now, we have just created protocols on the stories they gave us. Each community has a prototype of all the materials that all the teachers developed during the two workshops.”
Shenker said the ultimate goal is to create a permanent position within the community, an addition to what the schools already have where they could have more training and create jobs. The purpose is to give the program to the community and that way the MFC can actually consult.
“It is really important to take culture into consideration. I have my own background and my own belief system, but that is different in the Cree communities. Children with special needs are supported in their communities, which is something special and unique. All the children are included and valued for their strengths and we don't focus on weaknesses unlike here in the south where a disability model is used. We've gained more because we've listened – we listened to our students who have told us what's important to their community.”
For the future, Shenker would like to see a standard training program partly on-site and partly by distance. “We can train people. We offer a program that's not just three days long. There are young people within the communities who could do this job, they just need to be trained.”
Shenker added, “There is a program in Winnipeg that offers this kind of training so we are going to see if we can offer it here, either as a diploma or certification program. This would give jobs to people in the communities.”
Ideally, Shenker said that a Cree speech pathologist would be the best solution for the communities, but for the time being, the MFC will offer basic training to individuals in the community.
Currently the Quebec and Cree health boards are really interested, however major funding has been extremely slow. Shenker would like to improve the access to high-speed Internet to the Cree communities so that the training can continue. “We did get some funding for video and web conferencing to help with evaluating the teachers we have trained so we don't lose sight of them.”
“We took on this project because we believed we can make a difference and we are,” said Shenker.