Innu Nation celebrates record number of Grade 12 graduates

Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education marked a new record this year after decades of work.

It’s celebrating 34 graduates from Innu Nation this Spring — a record for the division after formally taking over education in Innu lands in 2009.

When the churches and provincial government ran the education system from the late 1960s to 2008, said Mamu Tshishkutamashutau CEO Kanani Davis, there were fewer graduates over that entire time period than there were this year alone.

“The number of graduates was 30 students in our schools in both communities. So for us to get more than 30 students in one year, this is a huge success for the Innu,” Davis said.

Some students celebrating are in their early 20s. Davis said it’s positive to see young adults returning to school to finish Grade 12 because the high school diploma opens a number of doors.

“You could be 21 and still come back and do your credits. So just seeing the number and the older kids coming back and finishing up their credits, it’s amazing,” Davis said.

“There was a couple of graduates who came out with their babies in their arms and that made me so emotional because I could relate.”

Natuashish graduate encouraging others to go back

A woman in a white shirt stands in front of a tent.
Davis says it’s ‘amazing’ that so many students return to finish her education. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Uapukun Summer Rich is one of the 19 who graduated in Natuashish.

“It was amazing,” Rich said. “That’s what I needed to get that diploma after I worked so hard to go back to school.”

A collage shows a bunk of people smiling while wearing cap and gowns.
The Mushua Innu Natuashish School had a record of 19 graduates this year. (Mushua Innu Natuashish School/Facebook)

Rich, who had dropped out of school, said it was tough to return but education is important. She hopes to encourage other people who dropped out to return.

“I would tell them to go back and finish, even though you’re older now. You still got time,” Rich said.

Rich hopes to become a nurse or a doctor and return to Natuashish to work in healthcare.

Sheshatshiu valedictorian calls on students to share unique gifts

At the Sheshatshiu Innu School prom on June 16, valedictorian Judith Hill gave thanks for the education the class received and said they were ready to take on the challenges ahead.

“Our contribution to the world will not be measured by the money we make or the awards we receive, but rather by how we share our unique gifts with the world,” Hill said.

“And the only place to find those gifts is to look within yourself.”

A group of people wearing fancy clothing smile at the camera.
The Sheshatshiu Innu School celebrated 15 graduates at their prom last week. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

For graduates heading out of their home communities to further their education, Davis said, the real work is about to start.

“You’ll feel alone but going out there and asking for help and meeting people will make a huge difference,” Davis said. “It’s scary, but it’s also a learning process.”

Land based learning a focus for school division

The Innu Nation and Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education took over the education system in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish in 2009.

Davis said it has been a lot of work to hire teachers who want to be in the community and to make students and parents feel welcome at school.

Having traditional learning as part of the curriculum has been one of the keys used to keep students in class, she added.

Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education is continuing to develop and implement its Nutshimit program, which aims to bring land-based learning into the classroom.

“We want to see education and schooling also be out on the land, ’cause being Innu and going to school is not just sitting in front of the classroom,” Davis said. “It’s taking the kids out on the land and learning how to do things out on the land.”

Students pick berries, fish and set up tents and snares but there are plans for a larger program that would take students into the traditional lands overnight and more often.

“I think this will boost their self-confidence, boost the traditional learning, so that kids don’t lose their culture, they don’t lose the Innu way of learning.”

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