Despite a summer of unseasonably cold weather, the Cree Nation Youth Council (CNYC) saw three days of brilliant sunshine for their Annual General Assembly and it was perhaps a good omen for positive change.
According to Joshua Iserhoff, CNYC’s recently elected Youth Chief, this year’s host community of Chisasibi pulled off their duties with ease, putting on an incredible event from August 14-16 on the island of Fort George.
“The AGA was really just an incredible experience. Chisasibi was unbelievable; they did just an amazing job. I could never have imagined that it could go this well,” said Iserhoff.
Despite winning the position on May 31, Iserhoff hadn’t been sworn in officially until the August AGA so that was one thing he was happy to have seen handled. Though the official, Kenneth Tanoush, was not available to swear in Iserhoff in person, the CNYC had Tanoush swear in Iserhoff over the phone.
Marking the transition of power, Iserhoff and his council passed a number of resolutions during those three days that will see a variety of changes for Cree youth throughout Eeeyou Istchee in terms of life and services. From a redistribution of portfolios to support for canoe brigades, Iserhoff took time from his busy schedule to discuss the 2012 resolutions with the Nation.
In an effort to share the wealth of the Cree Nation as well as engage the youth in life-changing charitable work and fundraising, the CNYC passed a resolution to support and partner with the Free the Children charitable organization.
Isheroff said he first learned of the organization from Cree Nation Justice Director Donald Nicholls and Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff. He was inspired to get the youth involved since part of Free the Children’s mandate is having kids help kids.
“We have always wanted to do something that would see us branched out nationally and internationally and if we could work with an organization like Free the Children, it would be an incredible experience for our youth,” said Iserhoff.
The kind of involvement that Iserhoff wants to foster includes fundraising to build new schools in impoverished nations.
Looking at ways to stimulate employment for the youth while sticking to the fundamentals of Cree values in protecting the land, the CNYC passed a resolution to see how they could participate in the implementation of environmental projects dedicated to sustainable development.
“This came about this year when I visited Wemindji and saw how incredibly green the community is and how clean it is as a result. I asked the council members about this and I was told that ever since the recycling project started there, they have purchased numerous machines for the program and started up all sorts of new employment as a result.
“I brought this up with our board of directors in July and they were incredibly receptive about what I had to say about coming up with a green project,” said Iserhoff.
In the long run, the CNYC would like to see similar green projects started in every community using the Wemindji model and this is something that could be jumpstarted by the CNYC with the local environment departments.
Iserhoff feels that promoting these kinds of projects is ideal as it is so in line with Cree values.
“If you look around our communities, behind every house you will see a 45-gallon drum, a dead skidoo and maybe a dead car. These are all things that contain recyclable materials and hopefully this could be a good business for the youth. As I have said in the past, the CNYC is a very event-and-program-based organization and we want to step up to the next level where we can incorporate things so that we can make money,” said Iserhoff.
One of the biggest changes that Iserhoff will be implementing is a major shifting of responsibilities as local youth chiefs will now be working on the development of portfolios containing regional contacts for the different branches of the Cree Nation administration.
Iserhoff said he decided to push this idea forward after becoming the Youth Chief as the invitations to attend so many entity meetings within the Cree Nation have become absolutely overwhelming.
“Each of the entities wanted youth involvement and so this idea was introduced in July to share the tasks of going to these meetings with the individual community youth chiefs. I got the idea from the AFN’s youth council; each of them has a portfolio, such as education or economic development, and they all report back to the AFN. So, I decided that this was a wonderful model to follow,” said Iserhoff.
Under this new model, the local Chisasibi youth chief, for example, could be responsible for health as Chisasibi is home to the regional offices for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. Mistissini’s youth chief could be responsible for the education portfolio because the Cree School Board’s offices are in Mistissini.
Also looking at improving the CNYC’s efficiency, it was decided to remove CNYC voting privileges from members of Senneterre as the community has been inactive for the past decade. But since the community had a vote, the CNYC was never able to reach quorum at their meetings. From now on Senneterre will only have observer status.
In an attempt to fine-tune the Youth Council, Iserhoff has made all Board of Directors meetings mandatory for all youth chiefs as well as coordinators.
“This is part of the new system and I think they will feel more validated. In the past, there have been major problems with attendance and so now we will have all of our board members showing up at meetings,” said Iserhoff.
Another resolution was passed to ensure that the Youth Deputy Grand Chief becomes a salaried employee in the next fiscal year, addressing yet another matter that has been outstanding for some time.
While Isheroff has been learning the ropes of his new job over of the last few months, it came to his attention that the CNYC has an outstanding debt to the Cree Heritage Fund to the tune of $500,000.
It was resolved that Iserhoff consider various options to deal with the debt, which stems from the Royal Indigenous Youth Conference that the CNYC participated in about 20 years ago.
“I couldn’t believe that so much money went out and that there are no books for it, but it’s been deemed that the CNYC owes this money,” said Iserhoff.
Iserhoff is determined to rectify this issue and ensure that the money is paid back before his term as Youth Grand Chief is over and so he will be seeking advice from within other Cree entities on how best to deal with the matter.
This however will not hinder the Youth Council from taking on other charitable projects to benefit Native youth across Canada. It was thus resolved that the CNYC fully support the Northern Starfish project in any way that they could.
As Isheroff explained, the Northern Starfish project is a charity started by a teen named Wesley Prankard, who Iserhoff met at the Waskaganish AGA in early August.
The goal of the organization is to build playgrounds in Native communities that are without them.
“He visited Attawapiskat with his grandfather and met the children there and when he asked them to go play in the playground he saw that they didn’t have one. That is what motivated him to start up this foundation to raise money to build playgrounds on reserves across Canada,” said Iserhoff.
“We invited him to our AGA in Chisasibi and I think he raised something like $3,800 just around the table.”
The CNYC has already invited Prankard back to their next AGA to have a look at his progress.
There were other resolutions passed to address language issues within the Cree communities, support canoe brigades in each of the communities and look into the best ways to improve the socioeconomic outlook for youth within the Cree nation.
In terms of economic development, Isheroff said he was going to see if CNYC Communications Officer Jeremy Diamond would be willing to spearhead this issue as he has a key interest in economic development, as was seen with the work he did with the Cree Nation Youth Business Symposium.
“It may be more relevant to have him address this issue with the CRA as the issue is so close to his heart. I will however assist him in achieving this mandate,” said Isherhoff.
These resolutions have created a solid blueprint for the year ahead for Isheroff and his council. Here are the resolutions for all of those interested in seeing what transpired. For more information or to get involved, contact your local youth council.