'It means so much': Educators honoured for multiple decades of service at on-reserve school

Staff and families were treated to an all-day gala at the Chief Gabriel Cote Education Complex on Monday, as a way for Cote First Nation to say thank you to some of its longest serving educators.

Eleven of the school’s mainstays, who have spent two decades or more at the school, were honoured at the event. All 11 are originally from the Indigenous community.

Chief George Cote emceed the gala and was honoured to see some of his own community members staying home and making a difference for the next generations.

“It’s a great honour to see our own people, our own band member teaching our children. And some of them, are also graduates (of the school),” said Chief Cote.

All 11 educators were given a starblanket, along with a special personalized gift, which ranged from jewellery to a golf bag for one lucky staff member.

Helene Cote, who has taught at the school in the elementary years for the past 20 years, said she hadn’t ever been honoured like this before in her professional career.

“It’s awesome. 20 years of teaching, it means so much to me because I’ve worked in my community my whole entire career — it’s been here with my own people, I taught my own kids. I taught my grandchildren. It’s more meaningful for me,” she said.

Of those honoured, one has seen the inside of a classroom, as well as the other side of education, from the Principal’s chair.

Jonas Cote first started at the school in 1994, working his way from a teacher to vice principal, before taking the task of Principal on. He said it goes by in an instant.

“It just seemed like yesterday, I started teaching. How the years just go by so fast and you’re sitting there (thinking), ‘Has it been that long?’” He said.

Jonas said there has been much change in the nearly 30 years the school has been open. He explained the move from sports to technology in the classroom, along with the ins and outs of dealing with remote learning and the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the gala, the school also honoured some of its youngest educators, looking to get their own starts in the education sector. Most of these young teachers, also from Cote First Nation, are also recent graduates of the school.

It’s all about fostering that community, according to Helene.

“Most of the kids, we’re related. We’re all connected, somehow or another. Either by family ties or by friends. We’re all connected, and that’s what makes it so special,” she said.

“You grow to love all these kids. You do, it’s a very rewarding job.”