“I didn’t think I could do this”: these 13 Innu graduates celebrate their hard-earned university degrees

Alanis Andrew is one of 13 recent graduates of a teaching assistant program aimed at placing Innu educators in Innu schools. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Alanis Andrew found herself in trouble.

The mother of three young children juggled parenthood, working full time and attending her evening classes. The simple fact of not being able to find a babysitter sometimes nearly derailed her plans, she says.

But earlier this month, Andrew took to the stage to claim his diploma.

« I’m just really happy to say I’m graduating, » Andrew said. « I feel relieved and accomplished.…I didn’t think I could do this. »

Andrew was one of 13 Innu students, split between Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, who completed a teaching assistance program at Nippissing University in Ontario.

Andrew called his degree a « high honour », a hard-earned degree.

She’s not the only graduate who had to keep a few balls in the air. Ann Margaret Snow and Munik Aster could feel their nerves rising as they waited to be called on stage for their September 9 graduation ceremony.

Both mothers say their new upbringing allows them to pass on cultural, linguistic and mentorship knowledge to their children in the school setting.

Three women pose on a white background.
From left, Andrew, Ann Margaret Snow and Munik Aster pose for a photo during their graduation ceremony on September 9. (John Gaudi/CBC)

But their success has not been without difficulties. Both briefly left their families to study in North Bay, before the program moved to Labrador.

It was also taught in English, their second language.

Although the couple described the journey as frustrating and often exhausting, it was worth it, they said.

“I’m so grateful that the students persevered, kept going… It wasn’t easy. Many of these students are parents,” said Kanani Davis, CEO of Mamu Tshishkutamashutau-Innu Education, the Innu school board. .

Davis says the availability of the program in Labrador has reduced costs for students and made the degree more accessible.

« Not many families want to pick up and move, » she said.

Davis called the graduation ceremony a “milestone,” one that would place Innu educators in Innu classrooms, rather than relying on outsiders.

This, she says, reinforces the Innu culture and gives the children a strong vision for their future.

« A lot of us don’t see ourselves in the big organizations. … It’s going to be huge for the smaller ones, » Davis said.

« They need role models in their communities. »

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