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First Nations member sought change for 'seven generations'

Community mourns loss of a great leader

By: Laurence Miall

Corinne Mount Pleasant-Jetté was a transformational leader who left a lasting legacy at Concordia University, where she served full time from 1979 to 2006, and in communities far beyond. As a member of the Tuscarora First Nation, she was committed to improving aboriginal access to post-secondary education, and in particular, to the field of engineering.

“First Nations’ access to education was one of the guiding passions of Corinne's life,” remembers William Lynch, who first met Jetté when he came to Concordia in 1993 and is now the chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “She continued to work hard on this issue even after retiring from the university.”

Jetté taught full-time in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, was the director of the Faculty’s Native Access to Engineering Initiative, and also directed the technical writing and communication program.

Over the course of her illustrious career, she garnered numerous awards, including the YWCA Women of Distinction Award and the Outstanding Faculty Member award. She was named to the Order of Canada in 1992.

In a 2001 interview with the Concordia University Magazine, Jetté said “Native people across Turtle Island — a.k.a. North America — say we do things for seven generations. What we do, we do for the future… Our goal is to change the world.”

Jetté founded the Native Access to Engineering Initiative in 1993. Through summer camps, career fairs, and speaking to native community leaders, Jetté encouraged increased participation in engineering among First Nations members across Canada. In 2001, with funding from IBM, other corporate sponsors as well as the Ordre des Ingénieurs du Québec, she helped launch a website to familiarize high school teachers and students with various areas of engineering in ways that relate to native culture and to celebrate success stories from First Nations communities.

Beyond Concordia, Jetté was an active and indefatigable member of the local community, serving as president of Montreal's Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, chair of the External Advisory Committee on Employment Equity to the president of the Treasury Board of Canada, and vice-chair of the Canadian Multiculturalism Advisory Committee. She also contributed research and discussion papers to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Former faculty member, Jessica Mudry, now teaching at Ryerson, worked closely with Jetté in 2004 and 2005, just prior to Jetté’s retirement. She said, “Corinne was a great asset to the Faculty, her colleagues and the students; her work was prescient and important. Corinne's legacy in the Faculty serves as a reminder to professors and students alike that words matter, and that kind words are the best. May she rest in peace.”

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