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Students, of whom many flew in from northern Quebec for the occasion, take their turn receiving their diplomas at a ceremony held in the DeSève Cinema on July 12.



The crowd of nearly 50 people took up most of the stage at Concordia's J.A. DeS¸ve Cinema, and the photographer charged with capturing them on film had a mighty task at hand. He stumbled backward, straddling row after row of seats trying to get back far enough to capture the whole group of beaming, laughing and chatting graduates of the Cree-Concordia Certificate training program.

The graduates who were celebrating their achievement on July 12 are administrative assistants, economic development officers, directors of operations and treasurers in their respective councils in the nine Cree communities of Quebec. They are part of a program organized by Concordia's Entrepreneurship Institute for the Development of Minority Communities, established in 1994.

Under the auspices of the Faculty of Commerce and Administration, the Institute's central principle is to "balance the equation in society," according to Clarence Bayne, its director.

By using Concordia's vast resources to teach non-students new skills, Professor Bayne says the university confronts the systemic racism that minority communities face. "You have to go to the communities rather than wait for them to come to us," he said.

Teaching to a different audience

Put into practice, the mandate means that dozens of professors, administrators and students have used Concordia as a meeting-place. Students are offered real-world lessons and skills development workshops, and for their professors, it's a chance to teach to a different audience.

Students from Whampagoostui to Waswanipi came to Montreal five times over five months, each trip for a week at a stretch, to take courses with some of Concordia's best faculty members.

The idea of a partnership between the Cree community of Northern Quebec and Concordia was born about five years ago. Concordia alumni Albert Loon and Norman Gull, representing the Cree Regional Authority, began developing a plan with Mohsen Anvari, Dean of Commerce and Administration.

Around the same time, the Entrepreneurship Institute for the Development of Minority Communities, also based in the Faculty, was holding pilot projects in the black community to see if targeted workshops with people who wanted to improve their skills would work.

They enlisted Commerce and Administration professors to teach non-credit courses on a variety of topics. The program was a rousing success, and organizers wanted to expand to include the Cree community.

Offering people practical skills

There have been a number of graduating classes like this one since. The program continues to grow, and Bayne is thrilled. "As far back in the history of Concordia as you go, there's been the notion of improving the spirit of entrepreneurship among minority groups," said Bayne, who is also the Director of the Graduate Diploma in Administration and Sport Administration programs.

Bayne noted that his Faculty often gets a bad reputation for their capitalist ideals and "private sector ties," but he says the professors who take part say this is about giving all people from all classes the same chance."It's an opportunity to benefit from the society in which they live" by offering people practical skills to take back to their communities.

John Brown is an advanced economic development officer in Eastmain, near James Bay. He has taken university courses before, but said this training was more rewarding. He said the exercises he did at Concordia have affected the way his community works with Canadian economic statistics. "Using the Canadian model, which is based on 25-30 million people, wasn't working for us when we tried to apply it to our community of 500," he said.

"I learned more about how stats are compiled and adjusted them based on my experience living there." Brown says he is now better equipped for financial planning and decision-making. Jenny Saganash, an administrative assistant at the Cree Regional Authority in Montreal, was also able to bring the skills she learned at Concordia to her workplace.

"I'm writing better in English, and I got some ideas for a database in the office." "The students were different from the ones we normally see," said Jerry Tomberlin, Associate Dean of External Affairs and Executive Programs, who taught a statistics class. "They were supportive of each other in a way that is different from regular classrooms — it was more of a community feel."










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