FORT ALBANY – A Canadian Ranger from a remote community in the Far North of Ontario has travelled thousands of kilometres to attend university classes and earn a degree.
“They call me ‘the wanderer’ because of all the travelling I do,” said Master Corporal Jocelyne Sutherland of Fort Albany First Nation, a Cree community on James Bay.
She wore her Ranger uniform under her academic gown and carried a braid of sweetgrass as she walked onto the stage at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, the former Maple Leaf Gardens of hockey fame, in Toronto to receive her bachelor of social work degree.
“I was really excited,” she said, “Because finally I got to up there on the stage and get my degree.”
Several times a year for the last three years she has flown from Fort Albany to Timmins and driven to Belleville to attend classes at the First Nations Technical Institute on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. The institute has a partnership agreement with Ryerson. After a week of classes, she would drive and fly back to Fort Albany to continue her studies by computer.
Each round trip covered a distance of about 2,400 kilometres.
She has been a Canadian Ranger for 10 years and runs the Fort Albany Junior Canadian Rangers program. The Junior Rangers is a Canadian Army program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across the Canadian North. As a part-time army reservist, she has been awarded the Special Service Medal for her military service in Northern Ontario.
A single mother of two and a grandmother of four, she worked for 14 years with Fort Albany’s Peetabeck Health Services where she was encouraged to pursue her education. She commuted for two years to get a diploma in social work at St. Lawrence College in Kingston. She managed the women’s shelter for two years and is currently a counsellor at Peetabeck Academy in the Fort Albany.
In the fall she begins a two-year master’s program at Wilfred Laurier University in Kitchener. She will commute by plane and car to attend classes and do distance learning by computer in Fort Albany.
“After that, I want to become Dr. Sutherland by getting my doctorate,” she said. “I’d like to open my own counselling practice back home.”
Her father, Joseph Sutherland, a former Canadian Ranger, her brother Simeon Sutherland, and Samantha Stephen, a daughter, attended her convocation.
Major Charles Ohlke, the Canadian Army officer commanding the Canadian Rangers in Northern Ontario, also attended with Master Warrant Officer Barry Borton.
“We’re immensely proud of Jessie and all the other Rangers who are engaged in the pursuit of education,” said Major Ohlke. “The amount of effort she’s put into pursuing her education is incredible. I’m very impressed by her accomplishment.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)