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Sarah Pash is sworn in at a ceremony on Sept. 5. She was elected in July and is well-known in the Cree Nation, after working for many years as a teacher and most recently as the director of the Aanischaaukamikw (Cree Cultural Institute). (Submitted by Cree School Board) The Cree School Board in the James Bay region of Quebec has a new chairperson — Sarah Pash, from the community of Chisasibi.

Pash, who was elected in July, is well-known in the Cree Nation after working for many years as a teacher and most recently as the director of the Aanischaaukamikw (Cree Cultural Institute), a museum and cultural institution located in Oujé Bougoumou.

"I am feeling grateful and thankful that people made their voices heard," Pash said after being sworn in to a three-year term last Wednesday.

"We need to engage the public and students and teachers and parents and communities. I know the school board is ready to do this."

The Cree School Board was created in 1975 as part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Today, there are 4,600 students in 11 schools, and more than 700 post-secondary and vocational students.

Pash says she’s committed to making the Cree School Board more "present in the communities and more accountable." Graduation rate low

Cree School Board statistics show its graduation rate stands around 42 per cent. While that is up from past years, it is still one of the lowest graduation rates in Quebec. Pash got her PhD in First Nations education at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., not long after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. (Submitted by Sarah Pash) "We need to look at where major drop-off years are," said Pash, adding that she recognizes Cree students are coming from a wide variety of situations and challenges.

"We need to have targeted interventions."

Pash said she’s committed to improving the graduation rate through academic, emotional and social support.

She knows a thing or two about perseverance in school. Eight years ago, debilitating pain forced her to put her own doctoral studies on hold. Then in 2013, came the discovery of a golf ball-sized brain tumour.

A year and a half later, Pash went on to earn her PhD in First Nations education at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

In 2014, she told CBC that once she was able to let go of control and reach out for help, everything was possible.

"When we are able do that, we realize that we can get through anything, no matter what."

With file from Susan Bell, Jaime Little

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