Residential school survivor graduates high school at 61, says it’s never too late for education

A residential school survivor who received his high school diploma last week says he hopes to inspire others to believe in their education goals.

“Now I can prove that an elder like me could graduate. If anybody like me can do it, they can do it,” said 61-year-old Glenn Courchene.

Courchene is Anishinaabe from Sagkeeng First Nation, which is 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

On Nov. 18, he received his high school diploma from the Empower Adult Education Centre in the neighbouring community of Pine Falls, Man.

In February 2019, Courchene made the commitment to obtain his high school diploma.

“I wanted to go back to school and I wanted to complete my education, so what I did was I encouraged myself to believe in myself,” said Courchene.

As a child he attended the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School for eight years. He also attended the day school in the community for three and half years.

Previously, he had only gone up to Grade 6 in the residential school. He said the schools are responsible for him not being able to speak Anishinaabemowin and for hurting his confidence.

“My education in the residential school, it was kind of hard for me,” said Courchene. 

“We couldn’t learn because of what happened to us. We were abused, physical and all that. We were there to learn not to get hurt.”

Arriving early before staff

Courchene said he wouldn’t have been able to finish school without the support of his friends and the staff at the Empower Adult Education Centre.

One of the staff that he gives credit to is Karen Legall, the work counsellor at the school. She helps students upgrade their skills so they can take the courses that are required for graduation. 

She said that Courchene tried to give school a chance back in 2012 but didn’t follow through with it at the time.

When he came back in 2019, she said he was there at the school every day.

Every morning, he walked the seven kilometres or so from Sagkeeng to Pine Falls and would often get picked up on the way and given a ride to the adult education centre.

Legall said he would often arrive at the school before the staff, waiting for the doors to open.

“Last year he just took off,” said Legall.

“He just started coming in every day. And then we thought, you know what, let’s get your Grade 12. And he was so excited and he did it.” 

Karen Legall said that Courchene made individual dreamcatchers for the staff, as well as a heart-shaped dream catcher for the office. (Karen Legall)

She describes Courchene as funny and caring and that he has shared many stories with the staff since he started at the school. Legall said that Courchene made individual dream catchers as well as a big heart-shaped dream catcher for the staff at Empower.

“He really likes to share all his knowledge over the years. And we appreciate him doing that. We’ve learned a lot from him,” said Legall.

Courchene said he plans on going to university to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

“I’ve gone through a lot of hurt and I respect myself for going to school. And I will never give up school because I want to keep learning.”

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