A group of 12 students in Rouyn Noranda are making an investment in the future of the Crees. Under the long-awaited Cree Employment Agreement (Apatisiiwin Agreement) the students are studying to be hydro dam technicians in a 2-year Vocational Secondary Education Program at the Centre Polymetier in Rouyn-Noranda.

The Grand Council of the Crees and Hydro Quebec have created a joint nonprofit corporation under the agreement called the Apatisiiwin Corporation. Their mission is to ensure that Crees obtain a minimum of 150 permanent employment positions with Hydro-Quebec in the James Bay region by 2017.

The Corporation is made up of five Cree representatives and three Hydro Quebec representatives who will work with the Cree School Board to select, encourage and support candidates in one of four fields -Apparatus Electricians, Apparatus Mechanics, Automation Electronics and Telecommunications Technicians.

To recognize the students, a public meeting and press conference was held November 19 in Rouyn-Noranda. The speakers included Grand Chief of the Crees Ted Moses, William Mianscum of the Cree School Board, President of the Apatissiwin Corporation Jimmy Neacappo, Michael Coonishish, Cree student representative, as well as representatives from Hydro Quebec and Rouyn-Noranda.

“You, the first students of this new Hydro-Quebec – Cree Nation initiative, are pioneers of a new approach and many more will follow in your footsteps in the future,” Grand Chief Ted Moses told the students. “In the coming years, with your efforts the Crees will take a greater and greater role in the management and operation of the hydroelectric developments on the territory.”

The Apatisiiwin Agreement was signed at the same time as the Paix des Braves. It reiterates Hydro-Quebec’s commitment originally set out in the La Grande (1986) Agreement which stated that “The objective of the parties is to have 150 Crees employed in permanent Hydro Quebec jobs within Le Complexe La Grande (1975) by 1996.”

Currently there are only 14 Cree employees who work at Hydro Quebec installations. One issue was that the dispute over the Great Whale project led to a deterioration in the relationship between the two parties. The new management at Hydro-Quebec promotes the idea of Crees being involved in in development with them. They began talking about a new agreement with the Crees three years before the Paix des Braves.

Apatisiiwin Corporation President Neacappo says that there are resources available for the next 15 years of over $100,000.

“In order to implement the program, we will do temporary employment initiatives,” Neacappo said. “These will primarily geared to do work in order to pursue the way of life; clearing trails, cabin building, snowmobiling paths, seasonal work.”

There will also be summer employment opportunities for those who are taking the courses, to familiarize them with what it’s like to work at Hydro Quebec. These two commitments are on top of the 150 guaranteed jobs for those who complete their studies.

“There’s a lot of work to put into place.

If we can do more with the funds after (the agreement ends), we will do more.”