Janet Alcrow tried to focus on her excitement but the feeling of loss was pervasive.
As the last ever group of NORTEP students smiled for photos at their graduation ceremony in La Ronge Saturday night, Alcrow said it was hard to ignore the fact that completing her second NORTEP degree marked the end of an era for northern Saskatchewan.
“There was a lot of mixed emotions, knowing that we are celebrating the last grad of NORTEP/NORPAC,” she said.
“At the same time you are excited that you’ve done your classes and you’ve done your studies, but it’s also sad for the North because it has really helped. We are lacking resources and it is such a great loss.”
The provincial government announced last month that Northlands College will be handling higher education in Saskatchewan’s northern communities, taking over providing education in place of the Northern Teacher Education Program and the Northern Professional Access College. Both NORTEP and NORPAC will cease operating after July 31.
NORTEP was established in 1976 and developed by Keith Goulet, who was contracted by Northern School Boards, now the Northern Lights School Division. At the time, the teacher turnover rate in northern Saskatchewan was more than 80 per cent and the frequency of teacher departures was causing instability for students.
The new program was designed to make teacher training available to people who would stay in the North, without forcing them to leave for their studies.
“We were training people who spoke Cree, who spoke Dene, who understood the culture, who understood the ways of life of people and in that sense, a lot of people were excited about it,” said Goulet, a former Saskatchewan MLA.
The air of excitement in the mid-1970s was not just about the teacher program, Goulet said.
At the time, he said northern Indigenous communities had only recently taken over their own governance.