One hundred and fifty Wemindji residents have signed a letter asking Chief Walter Hughboy to resign because the band is “out of control.”
“We, members of the First Nation of Wemindji, know for a fact that you don’t have the credibility both internally and externally as a leader,” says the letter.
“You have lost confidence from the community, the Cree Nation, Government and industry. Our relationships with them are very strenuous and this is becoming a liability for the community operations.”
The letter accuses Hughboy of being present only eight days in Wemindji since being re-elected as chief last Sept. 12. “You have not been back in our community since November 28,1996. You can not run our community from Ottawa,” says the letter, dated Jan. 16 of this year.
The letter writers are also concerned about financial problems at the community’s entities and businesses. They say Hughboy is hiding information from residents about what’s going on.
“As far as we are concerned, there is no leadership in Wemindji. There is no chief in our community,” says the letter, adding that residents “are fed up with this situation and demand that you step down immediately as Chief.”
Chief Hughboy wouldn’t comment on the letter, but one band executive said the chief has nothing to hide and invites anyone who wants to come examine the band’s books. He also said Hughboy must be absent from the community for good reasons. The chief has been involved in meetings and negotiations in the South with other Cree chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations, the Quebec government and feds, Hydro-Quebec and other companies.
“No matter who’s chief from now on, you have to spend the same amount of time out of the community,” we were told. “Decisions affecting Native people are not made in Wemindji. They’re made in Ottawa, they’re made in Montreal.”
The band official admitted that some Wemindji-owned entities aren’t making loads of money for the community, but said they provide valuable services and needed jobs. Also, he said Hughboy is still negotiating with Hydro-Quebec over the idea of building three or four new mini-hydro dams on the Maquatau River. This will generate revenue for the band.
He said Hughboy won’t resign because the people have repeatedly re-elected him: “Once you’re elected, you can’t resign. It’s not the Cree way to resign. It’s the white way to resign. It’s not in our nature.”
But Annie Saganash, one of Hughboy’s critics, isn’t convinced. She says the band has no leadership and Hughboy keeps residents in the dark. She pointed to a community referendum which was held on Feb. 21, the day after this issue of The Nation went to print. One of the questions was whether Wemindji should have a “virtual casino,” something Saganash said hasn’t been explained properly to the community. “Nothing is clear on that,” she said. “Almost 75 per cent of the population is on welfare. How are we going to benefit from a casino? People will blow their welfare cheques on that. Gambling is already bad >in the community. What’s it going to be like with a casino?”