I saw something extraordinary happening at the James Bay Eeyou School in Chisasibi in the early 1980s. It was a sight that impressed me: Ernie Webb breakdancing like a pro and the circle of astounded students and adults alike crowded around the whirling dervish. I happened to be one of the founding members of the local radio station and I was interested in promoting the station to the younger generation as a possible career choice. I asked Ernie if he was interested in becoming a radio announcer and he took the bait. Within a year, Ernie was off to a community radio station program course that the James Bay Cree Communications Society offered in Mistissini where he met Will Nicholls, who happened to be a D.J. for the local radio station.
Together, they went through a barrage of trainers and board of directors and helped create the JBCCS FM station that was broadcast from Montreal. In those days, tapes were prerecorded and sent to CBC, who “allowed” us to broadcast the JBCCS show to all the communities. Then technology advanced and we sent the show by telephone, again prerecorded to the CBC. At this point in time, the JBCCS, Will, Ernie and Will’s uncle Luke, became synonymous with great journalism and great radio shows. Eventually, the show went digital and was distributed via satellite. Much to our surprise, the JBCCS was the first radio program to be distributed this way, anywhere. In fact, through Ernie’s research with the latest music, the songs we broadcast were quite often the first time ever heard in Canada!
Yep, Ernie and Will were quite the pair, practically re-inventing the radio show as we knew it back then. And they went beyond the usual call of duty, most often terrorizing the Chibougamau denizens until closing time. Somewhere and somehow, Ernie met Catherine Bainbridge and they eventually married and now have several children. Will continued his education in Montreal and somehow met up with Neil Diamond (not the singer, the photographer) and together, Will, Neil, Catherine and Ernie decided that the usual propaganda that was dished out about Crees and their way of life should be told as it actually happens.
Sometimes Ernie would call me for my usual off-the-wall advice (for some reason) and queried whether the name ‘The Nation” would infringe on the Montreal Gazette subsection “Nation” rights, and it turned out that no infringement was evident and the name stuck. Ernie also wanted to have a sturdy paper and format, and the comic book format seemed to be logical (I think for its lasting qualities and also so that it was harder on the butt if used as toilet paper). The Nation magazine was born and many a politician bet that it wouldn’t last the year. Surprise, surprise. Not only did The Nation last, but it lasted longer than most politicians have!
Alex Roslin came into the picture as the ever-reliable newshound, snooping around for juicy stories and any political shenanigans were meat for editorials. Brian Webb, the omni presence of Cree wisdom and insight, also became and still is the translator. I happened to receive the occasional phone call, again giving my indispensable sound advice to the gang over the first six or seven years until one fateful day, Neil decided that he was going to be a videographer and work on another venture with Ernie and Catherine. Will, with sheer willpower and a pen, now dripping with the blood of many a political target and with a dose of sarcasm, carried on the legacy of the magazine.
I thought that my stint would be for just a few issues, writing up the Reznotes column for Neil while he was gone, but somehow and for some reason, I’m still here. Many others, such as the two Lindas, Danielle, Aaron, Steve (if I missed anyone, it’s because I’m getting old and senile) all have contributed to the making of the success of this great magazine.
There are times, though, that our own people tend to be critical of The Nation. It was called a cheap magazine, but hey, how many papers do you see around that comes out regularly and steadily and is free?
Isn’t that a sign of generosity? Are not the people’s voice heard and read by others? Is it because the opinion of the writer and the reader are that different, or is it that we, as Eeyouch, have grown to accept that, yes, we are a diverse nation with many different viewpoints and opinions. I happen to have my own opinion (which many either like or despise), but that is my opinion and I’m entitled to it, so there!
But back to The Nation and the people it represents. It is an accomplishment and a very good example of skilled people working very entrepreneurially and professionally to make a dream come true, a dream that was spawned from the lack of communications among our people and communities. As for me, The Nation will be my springboard to even greater things! I thank everyone who was and is involved with this paper and I can’t wait for the next 260 issues.