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.
Paul Gull helped to set up the Cree Youth Council in the process becoming the first youth chief – so that the young people of Eeyou Istchee could have a voice in Cree affairs. Now he wants his voice heard as the leader of the Crees and Chief of the Grand Council.
“I’ve made an honest effort to do what was right over the years,” said Gull, who has served in many political capacities, including Chief of Waswanipi and his current position as Deputy Chief. “And I believe that a lot of things happen when people are comfortable in doing what they believe they should be doing for the community. I believe that what I can contribute is helping people believe that they can help themselves.”
Gull says his father told him, “Wherever you go education is the key.”
“Sometimes education does not have to be in schools or universities but he encouraged me to go there,” Gull explained. “I learned a long time ago that I’m able to lead groups of people together and I will lead the people of the Cree Nation to where they want to go.”
Gull supports the Paix des Braves Agreement, but says that there are elements in it that can be improved. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of general education. The problem I see right now is we need to educate the people that actually work with those things, the issues. The bureaucracy does not understand certain sections. It still needs to be implemented at the grassroots level.”
What could be the biggest issue within Quebec and the Cree Nation right now is wind power. Gull thinks it is a very viable economic opportunity that all Eenouch should embrace. “I think it’s viable in terms of what we’ve seen and the studies that have been done. I think every community needs an economic project to make their community a better place to live and to build an economic base of land around their community.”
“There is a growing number of youth that are unemployed and we need to find something for them in each of the Cree communities. Whether is it wind or some other industry that will help their community find employment, that’s what we need to find out.”
Gull also mentioned that in order to prosper as a nation, people have to become more accountable for their actions. “We need to promote more life skills and more general involvement with our youth. They’re looking for answers and we have to find processes where they can find the answers themselves.”
For instance, Gull suggested, “We need to find some employment strategy for the youth or they’re going to be migrating down south. We can’t just rely on service-orientated things such as the school board, health board and the band itself. We have to find a bigger economic base for each community.”
Gull says the Cree need to spend more of their money in their own communities. “We tend to buy outside and there are no economic spin-offs. We need to think in a business-like fashion where the dollar spins two or three times over before it goes out. That’s what I’m referring to in terms of finding an economic base for Cree communities.”
The Ouje-Bougoumou contamination issue, he says, is a global one. “It needs to be corrected. I know in all the mining areas there is a lot of clean up that needs to be done. We have to be honest with ourselves as a people and honest with the people who live in our territory in terms of the impact on the land.”
Gull says there is no doubt that something is polluting the lakes and rivers and killing the fish. “If we stop denying it and speak the truth and be honest in terms of, ‘Yes there is a problem with that lake,’ then we have to all agree and figure out what do we do to clean it up,” said Gull.
An issue that always seems to pop up in Cree politics is the Washaw Sibi Cree and their struggle for a land base and more funding from the Grand Council. Gull told the Nation that they have his full support on both issues.
“We have to give in our share of our funding to them because there are 70 people from Waswanipi living with the Washaw Sibi people that are registered under Waswanipi Cree Nation. We know where they come from and they have trap lines in the area, they’re Cree people. And many of them I know personally and I’m aware of their struggles and I think they have the right to have a land base in terms of trying to find their own community,” he said.
“I would support the idea that they get their own community and somewhere down the line they should have their own funding to meet the needs of their people.”
Another issue involving membership and rights issues is the MoCreebec people living in Moosonee, Ontario. There will be a ballot box in place for them to vote this time around. Last election they were left out of the process and were less than pleased because of it.
“They could have voted in the past,” said Gull. “The right to vote is a personal decision everybody has to make. And some people chose not to vote. I have no problem with people choosing not to vote. I think if an effort were made, they could have been able to vote. But if the ballot box is the reason they didn’t want to vote, that is a situation that I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened back then.”
Gull supports self-government talks with Canada, but feels the people must be more involved. “I would see it more as a development from the grassroots up. We have to feel that if it is a constitution it has to belong to the people. And it’s got to be the people that are doing these things, the people who want a constitution.”
If the Grand Council wants to appeal to the people they should try to be more visible, he says. “Sometimes we have a tendency to stay away too long,” he said. “Even as Deputy Grand Chief I spent a lot of time down south and I think I would share more in my role as leader to the people that are leaders also, which is the chiefs. And I would involve them in the negotiation process. Because they know what their community wants are, what their needs are, and they should feel it is more than a consultant doing the negotiation for us.”
If elected, Gull said he would listen to the people first and foremost. “I would respect what each of the Cree communities need because they know their community better than I do. But in order to help with this issue we need to be more involved with the Cree communities.”