It has been almost 40 years since Hydro-Québec began development in the north on traditional Cree territory, forever changing the lives of a people who once survived as nomads on lands that are now flooded to keep the energy mega-giant’s turbines spinning.
The Cree of James Bay did not let this devastate their people, fighting within the court system until they had permanent control over portions of their land and using the monies generated by these settlements, for the benefit of the population.
As a result, today the James Bay Cree have a sophisticated infrastructure within their communities, their own school and health boards, housing that is superior to many of Canada’s other Native reserves and iron-clad leadership in place to continue leading the people forward.
All of this is what the Cree from the Tataskweyak Reserve at Split Lake in northern Manitoba want to see for their 2500+ people with the renewal of hydro development on their traditional territory by Manitoba Hydro.
Looking to make the most of their agreement with the Manitoba government and its crown energy giant, the Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) looked for a partner whose expertise they could learn from, particularly when it came to maximizing the new benefits made available to them. And, who better than the Cree of James Bay to team up with, particularly as the Cree Construction and Development Company (CCDC) had everything the Manitoba Cree were looking for when it came to experience, training and success in a similar situation.
“In recognizing that they are about to go through a second phase of development in northern Manitoba, this time around, with Section 35 and the opportunity negotiation, setting aside contracts for the Crees and take full advantage of these opportunities, they wanted someone who could share their expertise and at the end of the day, CCDC was the best fit for them,” said Christian Sinclair, director of Development, Marketing and Promotion for CCDC.
After forming their own United Cree Construction Company in Manitoba to become part of the work force on the new hydro projects, the TCN not only formed a partnership with the CCDC, but also formed a joint venture with the Chee-Bee Construction Company in Chisasibi.
And, to see how well a nation can prosper with proper legislation of an agreement and the organization and planning required to make it work for that nation, four TCN councillors visited Chisasibi March 22-24.
“This visit was about reaffirming their business commitment because some of these projects are going to be fairly large in scope, similar to what the Quebec did recently with LG 1 & 2 and so they needed to be able to see first-hand the capacity and, more importantly, see the Cree on these job sites in Chisasibi,” said Sinclair.
But what impressed them more than anything was to see Crees working in various capacities throughout the job sites and not just in entry-level positions. Once more, to see that the community had attractive housing, paved roads, sidewalks, a community swimming pool and strong leadership through the community’s Chief and Council gave the Manitoba Cree new hope about their own future that their community may one day achieve as much.
“We have our own office in their community for the joint venture with United Cree Construction and the nice thing about it is that, along with an on-site CCDC engineer, about 38 of the employees are from Tataskweyak and are now trained to work there,” said Sinclair.
In the past, construction projects on the TCN were always run by non-Aboriginal companies that would hire the minimum of Cree employees, often as little as 10%. As a result, the wealth generated from each project would leave when the non-Aboriginal workers returned to south.
Between the new potential they have for wealth retention within their own nation, the new skills the people are gaining through employee training in construction and heavy equipment operation through CCDC, and the potential for learning from the 35 years of experience the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and its Construction entity have to offer, the Tataskweyak has found new hope. Hope that they may fix their housing shortage, end their employment shortfalls, add much-needed infrastructure and renew their strength in leadership for the benefit of all their people.
“The fact that the culture is alive and so strong in Chisasibi, including the language, showed the Tataskweyak Cree that they don’t have to give up anything in terms of their past while at the same time being involved in big business and development. They saw that they really can have the best of both worlds,” said Sinclair.