Nykesha Gregoire grew up sitting in classrooms with teachers who didn't look like her, speak her traditional language or have a full understanding of her own culture.
Now Gregoire is part of the team working to change that experience.
Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education, Labrador's Innu educational authority, has partnered with Montreal's McGill University to offer a new two-year teaching certificate for Sheshatshiu and Mushua Innu.
"It'll mean everything, kids being able to see someone that looks like them and talks like them and learn from them and be able to have that comfort in that classroom, which then will be able to help them grow their confidence in the future," Gregoire said.
"It's not just about teachers, it's about the kids and seeing where they can grow and how our community can grow."
Gregoire, Mamu Tshishkutamashutau's student support manager, said the program will teach the fundamentals of instruction and assessments and include Innu-aimun and Innu culture lessons.
Graduates of the program will be able to move right into the classroom and bring their own traditional knowledge and experiences to their classes. (John Gaudi/CBC)
The program will be free to 20 successful applicants, 21 years old and up, and include lessons in Montreal and practical education in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish.
Gregoire said there will be support for the future teachers every step of the way, including help with child-care challenges. Applicants do not need a high school diploma.
McGill has similar programs in Innu and Cree communities in Quebec but this will be the first in Labrador.
The program is one aspect of Mamu Tshishkutamashutau's redevelopment of education in Innu communities. The organization is developing its own curriculum to include more Innu-aimun and Innu culture.
"It's really important for culture and language to be included," Gregoire said. "Because when you lose that part of yourself, you lose so much."
"Bringing the culture back, bringing the language back, will make everyone feel more connected, and that's the value of the culture and language."
20 new teachers will help with increase of students, says MTIE
The 10 students from each community who will be trained as teachers will help with the increase in students in the community's schools, said Paul Rich, Mamu Tshishkutamashutau's community director of education.
At Sheshatshiu Innu School, said Rich, there are about 600 students, and the school expects an increase of 100 students a year. Rich said the program's graduates will be able to move right into the classroom and will bring their own traditional knowledge and experiences to their classes.
"It's the real-life experiences that's going to make a big difference," Rich said.
Director of Education Paul Rich says there are 600 students at the school now, and they expect an increase of around 100 students a year. (Heidi Atter/CBC)
Gregoire hopes this program will have a long-term ripple effect. There are already other Indigenous governments looking at Mamu Tshishkutamashutau's work in running their own schools, developing their own curriculum and now developing their own teachers.
"What I would love to see is confident, healthy Innu," Gregoire said. "Being there for each other, empowering one another."
"From there once we get our own handled we can move forward in helping out other governments," Gregoire said.