Charlie Brien was one of the first Crees to choose an untraditional career and combine it with his traditional Cree values and way of life. He chose to do this by starting one of the first Cree-owned businesses in Mistissini.
In those days, grants and loans to Crees to start businesses didn’t exist. Not that Charlie would have taken one. He was a self-starter who operated with the money he had.
He started by selling sandwiches and such to workers constructing houses and band infrastructure. He combined this with a small place where he would make tea, bannock and donuts. To encourage his clientele, both Cree and non-Native, he brought in a generator and one of Mistissini’s first televisions. Business was good on hockey nights.
Later, he would gut his band-supplied house, a log cabin, and create Mistissini’s first Cree-owned restaurant and pool hall. In those days there was no road into the community so everything came in by canoe. It must have been an experience transporting a pool table, stoves, deep fryer and other goods into Mistissini.
Charlie had his own version of the Indian Casino back then. You would pay 25 cents and poke out a strip of paper from a board. Sometimes you won a whole $20 which Charlie would give you with a smile. Most times you brought a hamburger, French fries and had a game of pool.
Later he would tear down the log cabin and build another restaurant, adding an arcade in the basement.
He taught his children about his chosen career and when he was ready, he retired and went back to a more traditional lifestyle.
His legacy lives on with his children and the new restaurant they have built.