Sarah Pash talks about becoming the new CSB Chair

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Sarah Pash will be sworn in as the new Cree School Board Chairperson this fall in Chisasibi after receiving more votes than her two opponents combined in the July 25 election. She’s still getting over the shock from the overwhelming support she received.

“I am just really grateful,” Pash told the Nation. “I’m really honoured by the amount of support shown to me during my campaign and I think it shows how ready we are as a nation to come together and support our education system. We almost tripled the amount of voters with this election compared to the last.”

Pash completed a Doctorate in Education with a specialization in First Nations Student Success in 2014, and has previously worked for the Cree School Board and the James Bay Eeyou School. With her experience as a student and educator, she’s coming into a new role with an understanding of what it is like to be on both sides of the system.

“I think that there are certain things that are valued by our population when it comes to nation-building, language and culture. Focussing on those kinds of goals is what’s going to meet our needs,” she said.

Pash said she comes to the table with an understanding of the school’s work, the issues the schools are facing and a vision for the future.

“I have always believed in Nelson Mandela’s words: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’ But from a Cree perspective we look at education more as a tool we will use to build our nation into the future,” she emphasized.

To achieve that she would like to see other powerful actors, such as the Cree Health Board and the Cree Nation Government, work more closely with the Cree School Board.

“At this point we’re all at a place where we recognize that collaborative partnerships are going to move all of our entities forward and be conducive to increasing the success of everything that we are working on,” noted Pash. “One of the things that I am really excited about in becoming Chair is developing and building those relationships and collaborative efforts.”

Prior to her PhD, Pash did her Master’s degree in Community Engagement.

“It’s also about reengaging the community, we need to start reengaging parents and I was happy to see that was already part of the Cree School Board’s long-term strategic plan,” she said.

Another direction that Pash believes the communities and the CSB are trying to push forward is providing Cree cultural education and building a strong relationship with the land. While working on her PhD, Pash said that this was something that she looked at in terms of student successes in other nations and saw very positive results. It’s something she’s intent on continuing to develop in Eeyou Istchee.

“We know that because we are a people of the land, we are connected to our land and it is so much a part of our identity,” she said. “We need to bring land-based education in if we are going to be building identity with our students. That’s very important to me because building identity creates strength from culture and language. That way our students will have what they need to persist through the education system.”

Provisions in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement make it possible to develop this programming while still keeping within Ministry of Education parameters.

But Pash insists that the focus on land-based education and language is the right of the Cree.

More important than anything, however, is that the Cree School Board continues to improve standards so that the CSB provides a “top-notch education” for Cree students.

As of early August, Pash had already started her transition into her new position, meeting with new colleagues, listening to their concerns and working to get an understanding of what was going on within the CSB.

“I have already had some good discussions with the Director General, Abraham Jolly, and for the most part we are on the same page. I am looking forward to a collaborative and supportive partnership with him because I feel like we have different strengths going into this venture and I can’t see why we couldn’t make something exceptional happen over the course of this mandate.”

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