Sarah Pash has been re-elected chairperson of the Cree School Board, the organization founded in 1978 to provide education in Eeyou Istchee, the Cree territory in northern Quebec.
In official results released late on July 28, Pash came out ahead of former director general of the school board, Abraham Jolly, by just 111 votes.
"Our graduation rates are very poor," Pash said during the campaign. "We need to target at least getting our kids up to the Quebec graduation rate. We can't accept anything less."
Pash campaigned for greater transparency, meeting firm education standards, and hiring Crees.
This will be her second three-year term at the helm of the organization after first being elected chairperson in 2018. She is pushing to expand the range of Cree content taught in schools, in addition to the Cree language and culture classes which she called "ghettoized."
"Why aren't our kids learning Indigenous technology in science class… [or] stories about the landforms and rivers in geography class? This would help with identity construction."
Pash has a PhD in First Nations education from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Before becoming elected to her first mandate as chairperson of the Cree School Board, she was executive director at the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou.
Another of Pash's priorities is to find jobs -- and housing -- for graduates returning to their communities after completing their studies in the South.
"Many post-secondary students come home to overcrowded housing situations or aren't able to return home at all because of their housing situation," Pash said. "We need to ensure that all of our people are valued and spaces are created so they can find a meaningful job within our organizations."
As part of those efforts, Pash said the board has already moved to prioritize Cree hires. She says she would also decrease the Cree School Board's reliance on outside consultants.
Abraham Jolly worked as director general of the Cree School Board for 15 years, after being deputy director general for four years.
A residential school survivor, Jolly centered his platform around increasing engagement in the Cree-run education system.
"We've had a troubled relationship with education in the past," Jolly said. "Residential school is the backdrop to our education today. It's taken time for us to embrace our own education system."
The Cree School Board was created under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It receives funding from the federal and provincial governments, and provides education in Cree, French and English in the nine communities of Eeyou Istchee. The Cree School Board also supports students in adult education, vocational training and post-secondary studies.
"Our school board has lots of resources," Pash said. "We have excellent expertise. We really need to support these people so that they can make a difference for students. And so one of the biggest pushes that I have is to raise our standards."