A young Cree man from Wemindji, Que., may be one of the youngest firearms-safety instructors to teach in Eeyou Istchee — and Michael Mark hopes the experience will help him reach his goal of becoming a police officer.
Mark, 23, recently taught a group of 28 people a firearms safety course, offered under the RCMP.
"I always wanted to be a teacher my entire life, always wanted to interact with people. I've always wanted to help people out," said Mark.
It was Mark's first course as an instructor, and he plans to keep teaching. It's one of the ways Mark wants to help people be safe when they are out on the land and hunting.
"Whenever we do leave our firearms around our children or any family member we need to know the safety precautions to make sure that everybody else is safe," said Mark, a father of two sons.
The training course is a one-day, seven-hour session aimed at helping people obtain their firearms licence. People learn how to use firearms, toggle safety switches and learn about loading the right ammunition and cartridges.
"You always have to assume that it's loaded. Take the proper steps into making sure that your firearm is safe for when you put it away, transport or take it to the gunsmith for fixing up," said Mark.
'I always wanted to be a teacher my entire life,' said Mark. (Submitted by Michael Mark)
Mark is one of the few Cree people who are qualified to teach firearms safety in Eeyou Istchee.
For his first course as instructor, he had some help. George Norman Natawapineskum is Cree from Chisasibi, Que., and was the head instructor of the course. Natawapineskum is also a member of the Cree Trappers Association (CTA).
"I'm already really impressed. Usually, I work with people my age," said Natawapineskum, who has been teaching the course for almost eight years.
Natawapineskum said it's important for Cree hunters to get the necessary skills, confidence and knowledge about handling firearms.
"If you know how to handle a hunting gun, you avoid accidents. That's why it's important to take the firearms course," said Natawapineskum.
According to Natawapineskum, there have been fewer firearm-related accidents in the region since the early 2000's, when the courses became more available to northern Cree communities.
"I'll be good and happy that he's going to [continue] because I know he's going to do a good job," said Natawapineskum said of Mark.
Along with raising his two sons and teaching firearms safety, Mark is looking to eventually join the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF). He is enrolled in the fourth cohort of the EEPF police technology program in Cégep de L'Abitibi-Témiscamingue and hopes to graduate soon.
"I want to help people. I want to be able to be a vessel of help and trust, to rebuild that relationship between police and people," said Mark.