17 new teachers and five BAs celebrated in La Ronge

FTLComm - Lac LaRonge Reserve - Monday, May 3, 2010

Each year Saskatchewan's NORTEP (Northern teacher education program) graduates fully qualified Bachelor of Education teachers many of whom return to their home communities to work in their community or band operated schools. This year there were seventeen graduating students from the communities of Cumberland House, Ile-a-la-Crosse, Creighton, La Loche, Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay, Brabant Lake, Dilion and La Ronge with five students graduating with Bachelor of Arts from Stanley Misssion, Green Lake and Patuanak.

Like the people of Northern Saskatchewan the graduates represent the ethnic backgrounds of that part of the province. Cree, Dene, five Metis and a sprinkling of the ethnic make up of the majority of Saskatchewan people. The graduating ceremony which began at about 2:30 Saturday afternoon (May 1) reflected that wide range of people who make up the complex culture of the north. An opening prayer was made in English, Cree and in Dene. There were the usual graduation speeches then representatives of all the communities with students in the graduation made speeches and gave out presentations. It was particularly moving when the Metis speaker presented each Metis graduate with a sash.

Canada has always taken pride in its multicultural nature but we do not often get an opportunity to see a situation where everyone is truly at home.

At about 6:30 each member of the graduation made an entrance accompanied by an escort but most of the graduates brought with them their families, their children, the people who most certainly had offered them the support that had made it possible for them to overcome the odds of striving for a post secondary education and a degree while still being a part of their Northern Saskatchewan world.

The whole event was held in the huge and really outstanding skating rink on the Lac La Ronge reserve. It was necessary for such a large facility because this was not only an important occasion but it was a big one with about sixteen guests for each graduate present. It took a long time to move everyone through the buffet for supper and being at the last table to make the trip we had a difficult time both eating and paying attention to the speeches and toasts which celebrated the event. A slide show and prayer brought and end to that portion of the evening near 9:00.

It was interesting to note that among those graduating two are very important people in their own right. One of those was the husband of the chief of the Lac La Ronge band. The Lac La Ronge band is one of the largest First Nations in Canada and five years ago elected its first woman as chief Tammy Cook-Searson. Tammy's husband James was a proud member of this year's graduation.

Also among the graduates is a remarkable young man who grew up in La Ronge and just as he graduated from high school took up the political mantel of being a town councillor. After serving for two years as councillor he won the job of Mayor of La Ronge in a landslide victory. Thomas Sierzycki is one of the communities most promising young men and his community is very proud of his achievements. Now he adds Bachelor of Education and teacher to his list of things he has done.

I remember sitting with the then premier of Saskatchewan, Lorne Calvert, who gravely said that the biggest and most formidable problem facing this province is dealing with the unemployment and underdevelopment of what soon will be half the population of Saskatchewan, its first nations people. Poverty, unemployment, housing, crime, substance abuse are only a few of the new making issues that face first nations people but the solution is so painfully obvious, it is education. the NORTEP programme is taking a huge leap forward in training teachers specifically for work in the communities of the northern portiion of the province and by generating qualified local people to provide education to the children of the North there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.