The race for the position as Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees is heating up once again and in this issue we will be talking to two candidates who hope to get elected and lead the people for the next four years. It is our aim for you, the reader, to come to a clearer understanding of some of the main issues facing Eenouch today, and how these candidates intend to deal with them.

“I had three years to think about the turnout and of the results of the last election,” Matthew Mukash told the Nation. “For the last three years people have been wondering if I was going to run again. I had to sit down with my family and ask them what their expectations were. And they said, “It’s not for your family; it’s for the people, it’s what the people want.’”

Back in 2002 Mukash thought his leadership was what the people wanted as well. However he lost out by approximately 30 votes and vowed to fight another day.

This time he is running a campaign that focuses on developing wind power. “My major platform is the nation-building approach to economic and social development. And one of the most valuable industries, in my mind, is wind power. Because in Hudson’s Bay we’re sitting on the type of climate that the wind is the strongest, we’re close to the sea,” said Mukash, who is currently CEO of Whapmagoostui’s development corporation.

“If we were going to sign 10 more agreements to the equivalent of the Paix des Braves we still wouldn’t have enough money to find the jobs for all the people. I think it’s time we have the capacity to go beyond what we have received from the governments. They are not going to invest more.”

Mukash has had his fair share of fights with the Quebec government, Hydro-Quebec and even the Cree leadership. In 1990, he was a powerful and influential voice in the Crees’ fight against the damming of the Great Whale River.

In 2002 he stood against the Paix des Braves Agreement and asked for more time for the people to study it and for certain issues to be left out such as the damming of the Rupert River.

“Everyone has different ideas about the agreement. In my mind it’s something that is short term, 50 years is not long. We have to accept and try to enjoy the benefits. I don’t really know if it’s successful, it’s something that we will see over time.”

Mukash spoke at length about several issues, not the least of which was the alarming suicide rate in Eeyou Istchee and what the Cree Nation needs to do to fix it.

“People have to come together as a community where suicide happens and start talking about it. They have to confront the issues face to face. Nobody really knows why it happens and how deep those issues are. Is it family-related? Has there been abuse? Is there mental anguish that comes from the overall situation of the Cree Nation or their community? In order to solve the problem you have to know the root of the problem.

“In order to be a strong nation our youth have to be strong. They have to have the means to get quality education and mental well-being. The most important aspect of the development of the Nation is the development of the youth. They are our future.”

Mukash called into question the educational system in Eeyou Istchee, citing the lack of preparedness of students who travel south for high school or further their learning though Cegep and university.

“They have a hard time adapting to the education that they get at that level. I think it is important to look at those issues closely as a Nation and see our students are prepared for higher education,” he said. “The promotion of our culture is also very important. We need to make sure that the language is strong and that the survival skills are passed on to our youth.”

Another big issue facing the new leader is the situation of the people of Washaw Sibi. They are still without a land base and are struggling every day to find one. Mukash supports their cause. “I think it is important that they get some land. I would like to see that happen, for them to get a community so that they can have peace of mind and start developing as a nation.”

Possibly the biggest issue facing Crees these days is talks with the federal government on sovereignty and the creation of a Cree constitution. Mukash worked on this file for years until he was removed from it in 2002.

“We have to educate the people on what a written constitution is and what a government is in the eyes of the state and modern society. I think it’s always best to first get the people to understand the issues before you enter into an agreement with the government. It takes a long time to understand these things. I think a Cree constitution has to be adopted by the people and not the Grand Council or the CRA,” said Mukash, who thinks the Nation needs a minimum of two years to study and fully understand what is on the table.

Mukash says he is not that familiar with the Ouje-Bougoumou toxic contamination issue, but if elected, he will make that one of his priorities. “It was one of the things the government of Quebec should have been committed to (during the Paix des Braves). I wanted a delay in the signing of the agreement to look at all the issues that affect our people,” he explained.

“We spent so many millions trying to stop Great Whale, and I think that one of the reasons we wanted to stop Great Whale was because nothing was moving as far as the implementation of the JBNQA. We should have sat down with Quebec and asked them to make a commitment on issues like the OJ contamination and the 55th parallel.”

The relocation of the office of the Grand Council is one of the lesser issues that Mukash thinks is important. “We now have an agreement that talks about the partnership with business people and Quebec business, so we have to start in an area where non-native people live together. I’d like to see my office located where people have access to it, and they should be more accessible to the Crees.

“We have the opportunity to set ourselves up as a nation. We should have the ability to approach international financial institutions when we need to, if we want to develop our resources as we see fit. As the Elders tell us, we’re only as sovereign as we act. We do the things for own survival to act peaceably with our government.

“You have to think big and stop being swayed by the government’s unwillingness to support you. You can’t say ‘poor me’; it’s very important for the young people to be well-educated and to know the issues. If you’re going to stand up for your culture you should know your culture. Education is a key element in the promotion of sovereignty.”