Ouje-Bougoumou. The blueberry bushes were straining from carrying the weight of their fruit. The Crees had convened for the 23rd Annual General Assembly of the GCC (EA) August 12-14. It was the 20th Annual for the CRA.
The opening prayer was conducted by Jimmy Mianscum, former chief of Ouje-Bougoumou. The first day was spent going through the formalities of adopting the minutes from last year’s AGA and reviewing the agenda. The rest of the day was an overview of the issues and presentations from the National Corporations. Treasurer Matthew Swallow presented the financial figures from the CRA and GCC (EA). Following Matthew was Roderick Pachano and his presentation of the Board of Compensation annual report. Afterwards were some questions to the presenters.
Following these were general discussions. “Whenever we get together we always seem to only talk about money,” “Will we have some tomorrow?” “We don’t get our money’s worth out of these ACA’s. Some people leave here confused.” Afterwards, Bill Namagoose gave the GCC (EA) annual report. During all that the pump truck came to pump up the Porta-letTM. Unfortunatly the breeze was coming towards the tent. Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said, “It was a stinky report” Laughter. The AGA adjourned for the day.
Notable absences: Abel Bosum, family illness. Billy Diamond, prior engagements.
Day two opened with Robert Weistche presenting the report of the Cree School Board. Comments and questions followed. “I am shy to answer when someone asks me if I can write syllables. There has to be a review of the post-secondary policies. The CSB changes the programs on the kids all the time. We need a Cree CEGEP. My sons went south and they needed a lot of money We can’t all go back to where we came from. We need to teach our children so they can work. ”
During all this someone mentioned that the theme of the AGA was “land and traditional issues… That’s why I came, and we aren’t there yet.” The James Bay Cree Communications Society issued an activity report for the first time in a longtime with Thomas Jolly, Susan Esau and myself. Following that was James Shecapio of the Cree Health Board with an introduction to Robert Harris and Elizabeth Robinson who are doing community tours to study public health.
A revised agenda was introduced… “We don’t talk about Cree Co. or any of the local companies.” Community reports followed. Chief William Mianscum raised the issue of the local economies, in particular Mistissini’s, how a lot of the money goes out to the other communities. They stated they have a project to build a motel-restaurant. And that they brought in a resolution for the travel budget to be spent on Cree land. Included in the report was how the trappers are feeling squeezed from “developers.”
Mianscum said, “We are trying to stop them but the agreement doesn’t seem to have any teeth. They sneak on to Category 7 land. They wanted to set up a camp. We said no but they go to the government. We try to go to court but it doesn’t help. While we are in court they still cut anyway and when court’s adjourned all the cutting has been done.”
After lunch Chief Matthew Mukash of Whapmagoostui presented his community’s concerns along with Andrew Kawapit, whose land will be affected from the proposed Hydro-Quebec projects. They expressed their concerns about the planned river diversions. Another concern was the high cost of maintaining a house and the high cost of traveling to and from the trapline. Samson Shem joined in by saying, “What our chief is saying is true. He isn’t holding out for more money.”
Smally Petawabano said, “During the first phase of the projects jean Chretien was the Indian Affairs Minister. I sat with him during talks and I said to him why can’t you just stop it? He replied I’m just the minister, it is the prime minister that can stop it. If I was Prime minister I would give you everything you want. Now he is and he hasn’t done anything for us yet. ”
Day three, Freddy Jolly presented his case concerning the Route du Nord. (We will have more in the next issue -Ed.) Eric House, with Irene House translating into Cree, submitted his mining research to the assembly. “In all there are 86 mining companies in Quebec. A lot of companies get money from the province to look for minerals on Native land,” he said. “You can buy exploration permits in Chibougamau for $75 persq. km. and nobody can go in for five years. There are 1,000 claims in the Eastmain area. There are claims in the reservoirs. Big companies are offering our leaders big money to hire them as mining consultants. Nobody seems to be monitoring. If a mine starts, a town will be there. Then we will be the minority. ”
He then went on to the Grand Canal project where James Bay will see a dam go across the mouth from Cape Jones to the west coast of James Bay with the aim of diverting water down to the states. His main question was: “Where do we stand?”
Grand Chief Coon Come then answered that a resolution will be worked on. He went on to elaborate that there is nothing the Crees can do in terms of exploration, but if the companies find something that would be another story. He said that Rankin Inlet was the test model for Crees. They had a mine on Catagory 2 land, but added that they haven’t heard Rankin Inlet say that they didn’t want the mine.
Paul Dixon then came on and spoke about his father’s and his experiences with mining. He said, “A mine opened up near Chapais in 1957, and me and my father used to fish on the creeks near the mine. Now we can’t even drink the water. It stinks. Our hands are being held while our land is being destroyed. ”
Albert Mianscum said, “I have listened to the Chisasibi and Whapmagoostui concerns. The mines and forestry are also destroying our land. The logger in my opinion is the biggest destroyer of land. I never saw the non-Natives back when I can remember. Back then everything was plentiful, rabbit, moose, everything. Then the first mine came in. I didn’t see much destruction but eventually we wouldn’t drink the water. The loggers came, then everything changed. Everything started dying off. We couldn’t find food. It became scarce. We find fish with no eyes—we can’t eat them. They also have some sort of burns. The Elder who gave me the land I’m on, it took him three years for him to pass it to me. He worked on me. When he had faith in me to take care of the land we went to Mistissini. I placed my hand on the Bible and swore I would take care of the land. ”
The Washaw Siibii Eeyou Association made the trip from Amos to plead their case. They are Crees with historic affiliations to Waskaganish and Waswanipi. Their traplines are in the southern regions of the Cree territory so they went to the Amos region to trade and eventually settled in Pikogan, La Sarre and Senneterre. Some of them were registered under the Pikogan Council but lost their registration with that council when they started receiving Cree Nation programs.
They said, “We hope a place will be set aside for our children to grow. Our youth have nowhere to go in the future. The students have no jobs in the summer. Sometimes they go to Ontario for jobs. There is nothing for them to do except alcohol and welfare. They quit school. Our kids are told to speak French or Algonquin. When I saw this that is when I resolved to fight for us.”
Matthew Coon Come stated that $100,000 had been pledged towards the Washaw Siibii Association.
James Shecapio and James Bobbish then presented the Cree Health Board’s report. Bertie Wapachee then asked the Assembly for a support resolution of the youth resolutions passed at the Youth Assembly.
About 30 resolutions had been passed. (More in the next issue Ed.)
Sam Bosum, representative of Ouje-Bougoumou, offered his closing statements and apologized for the smell du ring the first day. “That’s what happens when you have too many leaders around.” He thanked everyone for coming and wished everyone a safe journey home. Vice-Grand Chief Violet Pachano offered her closing statements, with Grand Chief Matthew rounding off the closing statements and saying the closing prayer.
Assembly adjourned. The blueberries were good. Only time will tell if what was said in the assembly will bear fruit. ‘Till next year in Chisasibi.