The Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association (CNACA) has seen its own share of growing pains, much like any other entity in the Cree nation but six years later it is struggling to gain new ground.

As one of Eeyou Istchee’s smallest entities, the organization has evolved from managing the Watchiya arts and crafts store in Val-d’Or to become a regional entity geared at supporting any variety of Cree artists. While the Watchiya store closed its doors in 2008, CNACA has since looked at other means of developing artists within the Cree nation.

Created out of Section 28 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, CNACA has its mandate with the Cree Regional Authority and Indian Affairs for funding with the specific intent to represent, train and develop Native arts and crafts and then promote them in regional, national and international spheres.

“For now we have a strategic plan to develop all of these areas and so we have evolved from our original intent of representing the artists and artisans of the Cree nation to promoting Cree culture and contemporary artists. This has been added to it. We now are multi-tiered, representing artists in film, music, literature as well as other areas that Crees may be interested in.

“We have also developed a partnership with the Cree Trappers Association (CTA) as well as Cree Outfitting and Tourism (COTA) in a three-part agreement to support each other in that regard, and so this is what we are now trying to develop,” explained CNACA Executive Director Lloyd Cheechoo.

At the same time, with the building of Aanischaaukamikw, the new Cree Cultural Institute slated to open its doors in Oujé-Bougoumou later on this year, Cheechoo said his organization has found itself spread very thin. While CNACA is partnered with Institute to eventually provide a new version of the Watchiya store within the Institute to sell Cree arts and crafts to the public who visit the new museum, this will not be possible immediately. Instead, Cheechoo said CNACA will be opening a separate gallery within the Institute.

At the same time, Cheechoo said CNACA needs greater recognition within the Cree nation as it is mandated to do so much more.

“The other regional entities, like the Health Board and the School Board, have their own arts-and-crafts projects where they hire craftsmen to create arts and crafts for their projects. All the new schools that have been built within our nation have required arts and crafts, but none of this is going through CNACA.

“There should be an understanding that CNACA represents the artists, the products and everything to do with that. We have the mandate to do this,” said Cheechoo.

Meeting with other entities at the end of October in Chisasibi for their annual general assembly, Cheechoo said they were able to discuss CNACA’s role in Cree society with the other entities they had invited, namely COTA and the CTA.

While the event was incredibly insightful, Cheechoo said more meetings need to happen and they need to be more frequent. He feels that CNACA needs to have a larger presence throughout the Cree nation so that it can accomplish more.

“Just like the CTA is regional and has a local entity in each community and COTA has evolved and is funded through a First Nations office, you then have CNACA that doesn’t get the same support from a local level.

“We want a funded local committee in every community and this was our initial idea. But, there is no budget. This would involve a lot more than just our initial intentions,” said Cheechoo.

As there are local arts-and-crafts activities in each community, CNACA wants to be able to be a part of these events and support the local craftspeople.

For the time being, according to Cheechoo, the organization’s main focus will be all about what is happening within each community to make sure that there is a stock of arts-and-crafts products available in the future. For this to happen, the gathering and storing of raw materials with the CTA as per what they agreed upon is essential so that the next steps can happen.

Lastly, CNACA will be looking to promote itself within each community so that the organization can become more known amongst Crees. This way the artists will know that CNACA is there for them.