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'We’re filling up fast': Sask. First Nation sees growing demand for adult education

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Atahkakoop Cree Nation has opened an education and training centre aimed at promoting education in the community.

The First Nation, located about 95 kilometres west of Prince Albert, purchased an old high school in Shell Lake and turned it into an education facility for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the area.

The goal is to provide accessible and culturally sensitive adult education to people looking to obtain or upgrade their Grade 12 education.

Joseph Burton Smokyday, a project manager with the training and education centre, said the band made the purchase in the nearby village because there wasn’t space on the First Nation.

“It needed some renovations, and that’s where I came in, and I have been working on it for the past eight weeks getting it up to code,” Smokyday told CTV News.

He said it opened on Oct. 6 and two adult education classes have started.

"We’re filling up fast, so that’s how much need there is for training and educational spaces," he said.

Smokyday said the centre offers a free lunch and transportation for students. He said they are planning to offer IT, cooking, and mechanical classes, and "other things the industry needs."

"Demographics suggest that there’s a lot of unemployment on First Nations, and this is due to a number of circumstances, but the most recent being COVID," he said.

“This is post-COVID, so we’re trying to find ways to deal with getting our people educated and caught up again.”

Tiara Ahenakew, a 24-year-old student at the education centre, is working towards a Grade 12 education and plans to pursue a career in addictions counselling.

“A lot of our people are suffering with addictions, so I think it’s important to have support and advocate for themselves while they’re going through their healing journey,” Ahenakew said.

The mother of three hopes to inspire her children to prioritize education.

“I want to be a good role model for my kids in hopes that it’ll support them through their journey in high school,” she said.

“Education is key to get where you want to go in life,” she said.

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