SLAAMB culinary students celebrate their 2020 graduation
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
The students of the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board (SLAAMB) and Central Culinary College celebrated their graduation on Sept 10. A graduate of the Culinary Program, Cartley Tait, who moved here from the Kasabonika Lake First Nation to study, said, “I have been cooking since I was 11-years-old. My friends kept asking do you know there’s this culinary program at SLAAMB. I was like, I’m not sure if they’ll accept me, but I’ll try to apply. Then I passed their test and they said come on over!”
SLAAMB serves individuals coming from 25 First Nations. The Culinary Program offers several courses: Line Cook, Culinary Arts, Office Administration, Hospitality and Youth Pre-Employment. With 20 graduates this year, the Director of the Central Culinary College, Terry Sakiyama said, “The students did amazing, not just academically, but also what they have overcome while they’re studying and adjusting in an urban community. They’re not coming from the same place and so you have to have compassion for them.”
“All of us don’t read and write at the same level, but we learn by watching and demonstrating. So with that, we’re bringing in youth or trainees at different levels of reading,” said Mary Tait, the coordinator of SLAAMB.
Cartley Tait said that his favourite thing about the program was his teacher Martha Tait. “We had an amazing teacher. When I wanted to fall back and go back home, she was there for me. She kept me motivated.”
“My belief always has been with a lot of our Indigenous people that it has to be a smaller setting that is Indigenous led, because of comfort zone; there is understanding and compassion for where they’re coming from… There is so much intergenerational trauma and with the residential schools and colonialism,” Sakiyama said.
Sakiyama, who has devoted her entire career to uplifting and educating Indigenous students, said, “I always connected very well with them. It’s different when you’re teaching adults like these people; you’re making such a difference in their lives. So, I decided to stay in my career with adults.”
Another graduate of the Culinary Program, Kristi Keesickquayash, who moved to Sioux Lookout from the Mishkeegogamang First Nation, said that she enjoyed being a part of the program, meeting new people and practicing work in the kitchen. “I became friends with my classmates, had a lot of laughs. I studied Culinary Arts/ Line Cook. I always wanted to study that since high school and finally was able to take the chance to apply,” she said.
“I plan on having a catering company and continuing on with my education. This time I'd like to get into business and use what I learned in the Culinary Program for my business. With the help of my family and with what I learned, I know I can do it,” Keesickquayash concluded.
Cartley Tait said that starting next week, he plans to work 6000 hours under the Red Seal chef. “I went from a line cook, and preparing stuff, to the one preparing menus. But, there’s another level after this. I always wanted to be a Red Seal chef, who is the head of all the chefs. This program teaches how to make people a true chef. If we graduate from this program, we’re going to go under Red Seal chef if we want to go all the way, and I want to go all the way,” he said.
Mary Tait explained, “We have to change the way we do business. Capacity building is one of our focuses in our Annual Operational Plan. In our community, because of the change that is happening, there is Internet now and students can get their certificates for their learning by doing online courses. So that’s the change that I see is going to happen up North because of COVID,” she concluded.
Founded in 1991, SLAAMB has been recognizing and addressing employment and training needs of Indigenous people in the Sioux Lookout area. According to their website, SLAAMB has 25 First Nations in its area. Only five out of the 25 First Nations are accessible by road with the remaining 20 being remote, only accessible by air. SLAAMB also represents six native organizations located in Sioux Lookout and Balmertown.