The Cree Nation has been left in a state of shock and sadness with the sudden death of Albert Diamond, 58, who passed away on Wednesday, September 9. He was laid to rest in his home community of Waskaganish on the following Tuesday, September 15.
Always a family man who loved his children, Diamond was visiting his son Daryl in the Ottawa-Gatineau region just prior to his passing in the night.
Since his death, hundreds have flocked to Waskaganish to say their final goodbyes to a man who will be remembered not only as a revolutionary businessman who blazed new trails but as a kind friend who was generous with his time, always approachable and kind.
Diamond was born in Waskaginish, or what it was then Rupert House, on March 19, 1951. He spent his early life in residential schools in Moose Factory, Ontario and Brantford, Ontario between 1957 and 1964. He completed his secondary-school education in 1969 at Sault Collegiate High School in Sault Ste-Marie, Ontario.
Diamond went on to Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario but left during his second year to return home to Eeyou Istchee because the Crees were engaged in litigation on the James Bay Hydro-Québec Project.
Diamond became band manager for his community in 1972 after a brief stint teaching adult education. From there he became very involved in the James Bay Project court case which later led to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern land-claims settlement in Canada. The JBQNA is also known globally as the first modern treaty.
As a result of the JBQNA and the system of governance it created, Diamond became the first treasurer of the Grand Council of the Crees in December 1975. Once the Cree Regional Authority was established in 1978, he also became its treasurer and held both positions for the following seven years.
At the same time, Diamond served as the chairman for the Board of Compensation from 1978-1990. Wearing many hats at once in the business community, Diamond served as President of the Cree Construction Company from September 1977 to October 1990 and was president of CREECO from its inception until 1990.
While serving all of these boards he also, amazingly, served as a director on the boards of SOTRAC, SODAB (the James Bay Native Development Corporation), Cree Energy Inc., the Cree Board of Health and Social Services and numerous other Cree entities. He was also a partner in Diamond Brothers Enterprises, which owns four businesses in Waskaganish and a partner in Oudeheemin Foods Inc.
In 1985, Ottawa named Diamond to the board of the Native Economic Development Program which became the Canadian Aboriginal Economic Development Strategy and Aboriginal Business Canada. He remained there until February 1995.
From there Diamond became the president of Valpiro Inc., a Cree Nation owned airport services company. Three years later, he became the president of Servinor Food Wholesalers Inc., but left that position in December 2000.
Besides his illustrious career history, Diamond also served as an interim director for Aboriginal Tourism Team Canada; director, vice-president and president of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre; and as a councillor for the Waskaganish First Nation.
In 1992, Diamond took the helm of Air Creebec as its president and made the airline the professional success that it is today.
Never shying away from a business opportunity, Diamond became president of the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance in March 2003 to further his people in the business world in the region.
He was named a trustee of the Cree Nation Trust in March 2007 and had just recently been named treasurer and secretary to the newly formed Eeyou Power Management.
The day after Diamond passed away, Creeco and Air Creebec communication officer Jonathan G. Saganash spoke to the media on behalf of the entities.
“Albert was really easy to approach and ask questions to, people always respected the advice that he gave to the youth and to the nation. Just as many non-Natives would come up to him to ask questions,” said Saganash. “The image of Air Creebec as a successful company with a Cree identity and all of those things is because of Albert. There is no doubt about it, he was successful, responsible and always really thinking outside of the box. This was the image of Albert.”
As the news broke in Waskaganish, writer and film director Neil Diamond was on hand and spoke to community members about Albert.
“He was a nice man. A lot of people here remember how he helped the Cree with his work. I always shook his hand when I’d see him. I respected him. My sympathies and God bless to the family,” said Michael Hester, Waskaganish.
“He was a great guy. He liked people and was always there with a greeting, He was friends with everybody,” stated Donna Steven, Waskaganish.
“I remember his generosity. He would also talk to anybody. He was never too big to talk to people,” said Jim Chism, Waskaganish.
“For a person in the position he was in, he was never too proud. He would help people who were down and out, sometimes with a plane ticket home,” expressed Susan Esau, Waskaganish.
“We’ve lost one of our great leaders. He made a tremendous contribution to the Cree Nation. I, for one, will miss him a lot. He did a lot for the Cree, which many people might not remember,” said former Chief Robert Kanatewat, Chisasibi.
Rodney Hester, Business Development Coordinator at CREECO, wrote to the Nation magazine and shared his thoughts about Albert.
“In the summer of 2004, I received word that Albert wanted to meet with me. I was not informed of the reason why, but I knew enough to know that when Albert asks to meet with you – you just go. I had no idea he was going to make me an offer that would elevate my career to a new level.
“My dad’s comments to this was – ‘Son, Albert is making you an offer you cannot refuse – you cannot put a price to be in his circle – to be in his network – to have him as a mentor – to be taken under his wing.’
“Albert’s influence and charisma crossed barriers and opened doors. In many ways, he paved the way for success and broke new ground for countless individuals. He was the glue that bonds – the one commonality that everyone could relate to.
“Albert was always a career-builder, an encourager of youth, a huge supporter of development, a promoter of higher learning, among so many other great things.
“The Cree Nation of Quebec and the National Aboriginal community at large lost one of its heroes yesterday — one of the most influential leaders of our time.
“Albert took pride in ensuring that our people had a promising future filled with hope and opportunity. He made it proud to be Cree and a member of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee. His legacy will live on throughout the ages and his record will go unmatched.”
In his statement, Hester also describes how he had approached Diamond about nominating him for a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Business and Commerce. Hester will continue in his pursuits to do so with the help of others who knew Diamond as these awards can be given out posthumously. The complete version of this tribute can be read at nationnews.ca
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come also sent a statement in regards to Diamond.
“This is a great loss for the Cree Nation. Albert was truly one of the great Cree leaders. He was respected and admired in the Cree Nation, and throughout Canada, for his numerous skills in finance and economic development.
“Albert was the son of a Cree Chief and Cree hunter. The late Chief Malcolm Diamond was very proud of Albert and his accomplishments and achievements.
“Albert began his working life as a young band manager for the Waskaganish First Nation in the 1970s. Albert worked hard to alleviate the poverty he saw in Waskaganish. He was one of the builders of Waskaganish and helped revive and propel the community to what it is today.
“Albert was asked by his brother, Grand Chief Billy Diamond, to come and work for the Grand Council of the Crees while in his second year of university. He became the first treasurer of the Grand Council of the Crees in 1975 and in this role was the first to begin the process of changing the relationship between the Crees and the Department of Indian Affairs, ironically the first step involved negotiating Canada’s terms of support for the Grand Council,” said Coon Come
Coon Come’s entire statement on Diamond can also be viewed at nationnews.ca
Diamond was not only known and treasured throughout Eeyou Istchee, he also worked hard to support the Crees in Val-d’Or when it came to business relations.
In view of this, the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre will be holding a memorial service for Diamond on Wednesday, September 23 at 3pm at the First Peoples’ Pavilion of the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
According to the Friendship Centre’s Executive Director Edith Cloutier, this service is not just for those who knew Diamond in Abitibi-Témiscamingue but also all of those who could not make it to Waskaganish.
“Albert has been a long-time personal friend and also a friend of the Friendship Centre. He was the president from 1997-99 and he chaired our board of directors despite his busy schedule. He always made a point of being involved in the Friendship Centre so of course he remained a dear friend to us even after he was no longer sitting on the board,” said Cloutier.
“He remained a great supporter of our mission and of course, what we hear most from people about him was his generosity. In the letter that I sent to his family I wrote that he will always be remembered as a great person with a wonderful heart who was generous with his time,” she added.
Gone before his time but never to be forgotten, Albert Diamond, 1951-2009.