The Grand Council of the Crees

Graduation of Special Needs Educators in Wemindji

Remarks by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2008-12-05

I would to first congratulate all of the graduates:

And I would like to give a special acknowledgement to their instructor Stephanie Deschamps, and that CEGEP St. Felicien for working with the Cree Regional Authority to provide this training program for our people.

A few weeks ago, I was very touched by the Second Cree Nation Special Needs Conference. There were awesome and inspiring testimonials by parents, educators, siblings and great workshops. It takes great courage to share feelings and speak publicly but many people came forward to discuss their experiences and thoughts, and we were all enriched by this. The CRA Department of Child and Family Services and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services (of James Bay) are to be commended for another incredibly inspiring and informative event.

This year, we had a surprise Guest Speaker who encouraged us all on the success and life that a person with temporary setback can achieve. Matt Roloff, of "Little People Big World", told us of how he was nothing of what his parents expected. He was not born normal by "society standards" and his parents thought he would never have a regular life. He refused to accept the limitations people may have had, he thought of ways he could work beyond his physical limitations. He told us of how to have an EXTRA-ordinary life we have to think of how we can add that "EXTRA" in everything we do. These words of advice apply to all of us. Each day, I try to put a bit extra into everything I do. I could spend time relaxing and watching television after a long day but instead when I get home or I'm in one of the communities, I go and visit as many friends as I can.

To me, being a Special Needs Educator is aptly named, for you have joined a profession where what you do every day is special. It is special in the lives of those you touch but also special in what it does in your lives. You have the opportunity to not only teach but to a little extra for your community, families and friends. So, today you represent the spirit of people who care, who are dedicated and who make a difference in the lives of those you work and live with each day. I thank you and congratulate you.

Mr. Roloff spoke of how the conceptions of the world changed around him once he started to do a television show. He could change the attitudes and earn the respect of those he worked or grew up with. He decided to volunteer his time to educate children in grade four about people with little people, he was able to impact and change how people thought. He could turn prejudice and curiosity into understanding and acceptance. He said the television show allowed people who would normally just stare or watch little people, has brought them into their daily lives to allow them to get passed curiosity.

I know, like many of you, we have moved beyond a natural curiosity into a more natural desire to help. When we think of access for people with special needs to the world around them, it is to enrich us all. It is not about accommodating anyone's needs as much as having communities, schools, daycares, and a Nation that is inclusive. The Cree Nation needs to continue and ensure that all of our members are valued. We all have something to contribute and each of us have dreams, expectations, and needs. We need to enable each other to achieve. We need to support each other in order to grow and succeed ourselves. There is great reward in being a part of other people's lives and successes.

I thank each of you here today for the importance you have placed on making the effort to create communities and a reality where those with special needs would be seen as extraordinary or special. I would encourage us all to spend more time being as Matt said 'industrious.' This could mean little things like instead of watching television to go outside and cut a piece of wood to eventually build something from it.

I thank you for the opportunity to be with you here today to celebrate the graduation of this special needs class. Together, we can achieve anything. Accomplishment is something that you are all here to celebrate today, and in the lives of the people you impact from here on in with be daily. It is a word that I hope we all get used to saying more often. On behalf of the Cree Nation I extend my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to you today.

I want to wish everyone here a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

God bless all of you and the Cree Nation.