The Federation des Caisses Desjardins pledges increased service for the Cree throughout Eeyou Istchee.

Through increased consultation with band councils, the federation wants to create programs and services that will contribute to the economic development of the Cree Nation, said Caisse spokesman Yves Poirier. “I am ready to listen to the needs of the Chiefs and other Cree business and society leaders,” he said.

One of the main programs shows primary school students how to save money. Proven successful elsewhere in Quebec, a small “caisse scolaire” is set up at the school.

Students are encouraged to open a savings account, one that has no service charges and a higher interest rate than regular accounts.

The program teaches young students how to save and manage their money, independently from their parents, said Poirier. “Even putting aside 25 cents per month can help a child learn how to save.”

Poirier, who is Senior Manager, First Nations at Desjardins, is part of a team of experts established to provide financial services and support for First Nations groups across Quebec through its network of Caisses and corporate financial centres. The specialists are there to help businesses, band councils and individuals get loans, a high demand for the Cree Nation.

Poirier sees a link between the function of the caisse scolaire and a person’s ability to get credit. “It can be more difficult to get credit, if a person has never had savings in their life,” he said.

Caisse Desjardins also plans to consult with individual band councils in order to set up retirement savings plans. Together, the Caisse and band councils could establish collective savings for communities, such as stock exchange term deposits, said Poirier, “which could have a higher return than short-term deposits.”

With branches in Mistissini and Waswanipi since the early 1980s, the Federation des Caisses Desjardins has already made its presence known in the region. A cooperative, Desjardins involves its clients directly in its administration. When individuals open an account they immediately become members in the cooperative. Members elect the board of directors at each branch, and the board, in turn, determines policy and appoints a general manager. Both the Mistissini and Waswanipi board of directors and employees are 100 per cent Cree, with the exception of general managers.

Peggy Petawabano has had a busy day. She says she is “the ear that listens for problems.”

Petawabano supervises employees at the Mistissini Caisse Populaire, the same job her sister, Karen, worked at for 12 years. She has been Interim Team Leader since last October, although she has been working there for seven years. The work is challenging, but Petawabano welcomes the job, saying she was “lucky” to get it.

Petawabano’s permanent job at the Caisse is in Technical Support, but she originally started as a teller. She upgraded to her Secondary IY but otherwise had no previous training or experience before starting at the Caisse. “It helped that I spoke French,” she said. Not many others at the Caisse spoke French at the time.

When Petawabano became a Technical Support Agent, she completed several computer training courses in Amos, each one lasting for three days. She learns the latest versions of various computer systems used at the Caisse so she can keep up with the ever-changing world of computer software.

“At times it was difficult,” she said about the training, but she never felt like quitting.

Petawabano’s willpower also helped her save for her down payment on her mortgage. “I was determined to get a house,” she said. “The money from the reserve was also a big plus.” Petawabano is talking about the housing grant she received through the band council, through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Petawabano says she loves working with her co-workers at the Caisse. “Most of us get along,” she said. “We don’t have any problems.” The ladies have a good connection and sometimes go out for breakfast together at the Mistissini Lodge.

Petawabano estimates that 70 per cent of Mistissini households use the Caisse, while the majority of transactions involve local businesses. She says there are also a lot of new businesses in the community using the bank.

When Petawabano started as a teller, sometimes people would get upset about small problems they didn’t understand, such as their bank statement. “You have to be patient,” she said. “You never know when you’re going to meet an angry person.”

Thinking about her experiences, Peggy Petawabano has a message for her community: “It’s difficult, but you have to have self-confidence.”

Credit Tips

• Your credit rating is a score that tells a bank whether they should lend you money or not. Your score is based on your history of bill and loan payments, bank transactions, and any other financial transactions.

• Find out about your credit rating before you apply for a loan or credit card. Every time you are refused for a loan or credit card, it is recorded as part of your credit score. Instead, contact Equifax and get them to give you your credit score beforehand. It’ll set you back about $20, but is worth it if it means you get the loan. You can call 1-800-685-5000 or visit their online site at, for more information.

• Start building your credit while you are young. Get a credit card with the minimum credit allowed, and cosign the agreement with a parent or guardian. Don’t go crazy with your card, however. Make sure you are able to pay for what you buy! Otherwise, you run the risk of permanently damaging your credit rating.

• Pay off your credit card every month to avoid interest charges. Credit card companies charge approximately 18.9% interest, annually! For example, if you charged $ 100 on your card, you would end up paying $118.90 for the item a year later. Even if you paid off $75 on your card, you would still be paying the interest on the $100, until you paid off the whole $100.

• If you really can’t control your spending, try freezing your credit card in a block of ice. It’ll give you a good 24 hours to decide if you really need those new clothes or X-Box, or that new piece of sports equipment.

Banking Tips

• Make sure you know what you are paying for with your service charges. A bank may charge you a flat rate each month for a limited number of transactions, but can charge you extra for each additional withdrawal! For example, if you paid an additional $4 per month, it would add up to an extra $48 a year.

• How to check your service charges: Look at the monthly statement sent to you by the bank, or look in the small bank book that the teller updates each time you make a transaction. After each record, any extra charges should be written underneath.

• Some banks will lift your monthly service charge, if you maintain a minimum balance of $1,000 in your account, for the whole month.

• Be careful with private Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs), like the ones in gas stations or restaurants that are not associated with a bank. They will charge you extra service charges of up to $2.50, in addition to what your bank already charges you.

• If you have trouble saving money, you can ask the bank to automatically transfer a set amount into your savings account, on the same day each month. Setting aside $25 per month can be as easy as deciding not to buy one soda pop each day and putting the money in the bank.

• Try saving money with a partner: open an account that needs two signatures for any transaction. It helps to have another person supporting you when temptation strikes.