After a little more than 20 years, there’s one airline you can count on when traveling to and from most Cree communities in Quebec, and Ontario. That airline is Air Creebec.

Air Creebec came from very humble beginnings. In 1979, the Cree Chiefs at the time decided that as a nation, they needed to get into the transportation industry, which was growing rapidly.

The only way to get around was by paying exorbitant fees to nonnative airlines. Something had to be done, and by 1982, Air Creebec became a reality.

Launched in Collaboration with the Deluce family, which owned Austin airways, Air Creebec was 51 per cent owned by the Cree. After only six years, the Cree gained full control of their airline, and in the process staked claim to having made the largest commercial deal by any native band in Canada.

Early on, the Chiefs were responsible with naming the representatives of the board. In later years and to this day. Creeco (Cree holding company) has become responsible for that particular duty.

Before Air Creebec, travel to and from the north would cost an arm and a leg, with people having to charter a flight if they wanted direct service to Montreal. Air Creebec was born out of necessity, says Air Creebec president Albert Diamond. “Back then, if you wanted to get to Montreal from Waskaganish, you’d have to fly from Waskaganish to Moosonee then to Timmins on to Toronto and finally end up in Montreal.”

Today, Air Creebec is heavily involved in fund raising in Eeyou Istchee. Giveaways last year totaled $112,000 in free tickets alone. There are also many other community activities which Air Creebec takes part in. They’ve been involved in everything from sponsoring hockey or broomball tournaments, to delivering toys in collaboration with the “toys for hope” program.

If there is something happening in the north and it needs sponsorship, chances are Air Creebec has been there with a helping hand.

Presently there are 185 people employed by the airline, 135 of which are full time. Cree representation stands at 74 full and part time. Diamond says those numbers could be higher, but “a lot of people don’t want to leave the community.”

An intriguing fact about Air Creebec is that it’s owned by the people who fly its friendly sky’s every day. Any Cree beneficiary is considered a shareholder in the company. In other words, it’s run by the people, for the people.

In this day and age, after the September 11, 2001 tragedy, almost every major airline is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Not Air Creebec. Last year was a great year profit-wise, and this year is looking just as good. It was also a good year for consumers, with the board of directors choosing not to raise ticket prices.

One of the main reasons why the airline wasn’t hit as hard as others is because their revenues are diversified. Roughly 35 per cent of their flights are either freight, cargo, or charter. Because of this, the company can rely more on guaranteed contracts, as opposed to individual bookings.

The Nation would like to congratulate Air Creebec on their first 20 years in operation.