Crees of James Bay taking advantage of staying at home for vocational training

For many indigenous students, it has long been the case that if you want to study a trade, you have to leave the community.

There is another option for the James Bay Crees of Quebec.

They have a vocational training centre in the community of Waswanipi.

The Sabtuan Vocational Training Centre (SRVTC) was opened by the Cree School Board in 2005 with the mission of providing an easier access to vocational trades to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee, within the community.

(Sammy Salt Blacksmith on a simulator at the SRVT centre. Photo: Sophie-Claude Miller/APTN)

The Centre is open all year long and offers professional trades such as nursing, accounting, hairdressing, computing support and much more, in order to answer the needs of the Northern market.

Sammy Salt Blacksmith took the heavy machinery course in his community.

‘’Oh, there is a big difference especially in the city,” he said. “The atmosphere is pretty different compared to being here. Traffic is different, the walking distance, you have your family here you see most likely you still talk your mother tongue.

“You can choose English, French; we choose our mother tongue, which is Cree.”

The language they use to learn is just as important as the family feeling to such a small vocational training centre.

“I believe it is an easier transition for somebody that never actually left the community,” said Bianca Albert, SRVTC residence manager. “So they come here to similar type of environment. It is easier, smaller, and more intimate. We do have a great number of students, however being a small residence as well helps.

“The community living is better and they associate to the community. I do feel they integrate more easily than in a big city.’’  – Bianca Albert SRVTC Residence Manager

Jocelyn Myre has been teaching professional cooking for over 10 years in Waswanipi.

He says he’s always willing to adapt his classes to the needs and cultural interest of his students.

“I have a chance sometimes to have some rabbit and then we are cooking rabbit instead of being in Montreal and having to buy the rabbit. So I have some students, they go and they hunt, they bring stuff in here and we cook whatever they kill sometimes.‘’ said Myre.


(Crystal Brien putting the finishing touches in the kitchen. Photo: Sophie-Claude Miller/APTN)

For mothers like Blacksmith, being able to study in the community means she can get the education she needs to thrive.

‘’These trainings that are available in our community are very, very good for the people that do not want to go out to school, you know. I went to Algonquin College, one year in Ottawa, with my four kids. It was so hard. I graduated, but it was so, I was exhausted you know, very. I had to come back home and trainings here in the communities are very good for mothers like me, who have a lot of kids you know.‘’

Her classmate Crystal Brien is from Mistissini, and even if Waswanipi is not her community per say, she still enjoys the different aspects that makes studying in a community easier for her.

‘’ It think it is very nice to be in the community, when you are studying in the community. When you have a family, you can bring them here and it is easy access to people, you can easily make friends too. Yeah so, I think the best place is in the communities to study,‘’ said Brien.

Host/Producer Nouvelles Nationales d'APTN - Montreal

Sophie-Claude Miller is a member of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi, located in James Bay Quebec. She worked many years as a counselor and as a communications specialist. She attended a journalism internship at Radio-Canada where she realized that her passion for storytelling was a true calling. Sophie-Claude joined APTN in January 2019.