A ten year wait for a youth centre in Chisasibi has ended in disappointment, leaving young Cree in the community asking how their Band Council managed to find the resources for a new office for themselves in less than a year.
The Cree community of Chisasibi is the largest of the nine nations with approximately 3100 people – 70 per cent of which fall into the 25 and under demographic. With the numbers to The local Youth Council would not be out of line in wondering why they have been asking for a youth centre for ten years to no avail.
Last Thursday, Chisasibi Youth Council Chief Ida Rednose, together with Stella Mastey Bearskin (Youth Development Director), and Jules Quachegan (former Youth Development Director), confronted the Band Council over funding that fell short. To add insult to injury, she also alleges that after less than one year, the band council has funds to build a new council office.
According to Rednose, the Band Council did not allocate the full amount that was requested for the conduction of a youth centre in Chisasibi. Ida was told at the meeting that there are presently four major projects on the table, leaving the community’s youth with $2.5 million.
“That’s not acceptable,” said Rednose. “It’s been over ten years since we’ve been trying to get our youth center and they’re getting a new band office, which took them less than a year.” After the start of the James Bay Project, the people of Chisasibi were told the increased water flow from upstream river diversions would wash the island away. Construction began in 1978 and in 1980, and the community was relocated upstream on the south shore of the river.
This community has been the most negatively affected by the hydroelectric projects as the prime family hunting grounds have been flooded. Traditional hunting territories extended up the La Grande River watershed.
“Out of the James Bay community, we’re one of the largest, and the youth population here is 70 per cent,” she said. “We’ve been fighting for ten years, and we’re the only [Cree] community without a youth center.” At their meeting last Thursday July 25 the Band Council would not provide the Youth Council with financial details regarding the funding. The $2.5 million they have now is only covers the cost of a gym with one office. The proposed youth centre is supposed to house a 250 seat theatre, a lounging room, a pool hall with an arcade, offices, a youth council office, a conference room, and offices for the Youth development Coordinator.
For young Cree growing up in Chisasibi, funding for the proposed youth centre has has always been elusive. Rednose says that the struggle is about more than just money.
“We don’t have a political voice in the community, and that’s what we want.” In her experience on past and present Youth Councils, a lack of communication has always stood between the elders and a growing youth population. That is why she has requested a special meeting between the two councils – the first ever between the respective bodies in Chisasibi.
“It’s not like we’re against the Band office being built, but why is it being built when it has been ten years that we have been asking for this money?” The Band Council did not return calls regarding this issue.