Grandin College: Empowering Northern Leaders

Bishop Piché was a Saskatchewan-born Oblate bishop who was appointed by the Catholic church to be the Bishop of the North in 1959, an area stretching from northern Alberta and Saskatchewan to the North pole. Bishop Piché helped establish Grandin College as a learning institution training Indigenous youth to be leaders in their communities, located in Fort Smith. He recognized that the future strength of the Northwest Territories lay in supporting young Indigenous people and saw the need to create an environment that fostered leadership and excellence.

Bishop Piché initially intended to train young men for the priesthood but reworked the concept, with Father Jean Pochat’s guidance, to create a facility for young men and women. Ethel Blondin-Andrew, originally from Délı̨nę, noted that there was a “very deliberate, definitive attempt at developing capacity and potential of the young people that were there.” Blondin-Andrew started attending Grandin after a harsh experience in Inuvik caused her to consider quitting formal schooling. Her local priest encouraged her to have a look at the new program in Fort Smith, which was intended to support the emotional, academic, athletic and spiritual purpose of its students. Bishop Piché wanted the students to become the best version of themselves and tirelessly recruited students in NWT communities. Blondin-Andrew later became Canada’s Member of Parliament for the NWT’s Western Arctic Riding and was also the first Indigenous woman MP and a Federal cabinet minister (1988-2006).

Michael Miltenberger, former NWT MLA and Territorial Minister, noted that “Father Pochat wanted kids to be educated and to think for themselves.” Piché and Pochat’s leadership helped produce two premiers, a federal cabinet minister, many members of the NWT Legislative Assembly, Indigenous leaders, and local government politicians. The expectation that the students would be leaders who would bring about change was constantly fostered in this unique place.

Stephan Kakfwi, former Grandin student and NWT Premier (2000-2003) noted, “What Grandin did for us together, and then when we went out, we had a network. We had a natural network.” Grandin College was established in 1960 and stayed open until 1985. It produced 400 graduates.