Not even a heart attack December 10 could keep Janie Pachano from passionately advocating a fully funded mandate for the Elders of Eeyou Istchee.

Unable to make it to the December 12-13 Grand Council board meeting in Montreal, Pachano, executive director of James Bay Cree Cultural Education Institute, sent a letter in her stead.

“As I lay in my hospital bed after a heart attack on Monday I had plenty of time to consider my own life and mortality. Strangely enough I never once felt fear or had any sense of impending doom. I remember thinking at one point I must be either very brave or a complete idiot,” Pachano wrote.

Pachano had planned to attend the Grand Council meeting to present the Cree Regional Council of Elders request for a funding increase.

“The events that led up to my heart attack were very stressful as I knew previous meetings between the Cree Leadership and the Elders had been very disappointing and non-productive. I was wondering what I could say that would convince the Cree Leadership that the wisdom and knowledge of the Elders could make a difference in resolving some of our social challenges today,” her letter continued.

Pachano argued that the Elders benefit all of Cree society and are necessary to make the Nation healthy and strong.

“Past requests for adequate funding for the Regional Council of Elders have always been ignored or refused,” wrote Pachano. She added the Elders Council has always felt the “future viability of a culture can be measured by the value placed on the Elders and how strong the connection is between the Youth and the Elders.”

Previously, Elders’ funding had come from non-Cree sources, but the federal government decided that this responsibility should fall under the Crees. The Board of Compensation also funded the Elders for a period but that too ended. The Grand Council of the Crees then provided financing but this was as a result of previously allocated funds under the Paix des Braves.

The Regional Council of the Elders said that any increase in funding would go towards mandates of their own choosing. These would include dealing with community and social issues, an Elders’ Council in each community, the transmission of traditional knowledge (including ways of life and medicine), fulfilling their role as keepers of Cree knowledge, customs, traditions, traditional values, history, language, teachings, philosophies, prophecies, legends, healing knowledge, medicines and life and ensuring these are a part of the Cree future in areas such as governance and justice.

To implement this mandate, the Elders Council requested a budget of $1.4 million. Their submission said, “Many other methods have been tried to deal with the social issues, as an example, but the most successful ones appear to be those that are land-based and incorporate Cree Culture and values. We need to look back from time to time to see where we are but also learn from the past.”

In her letter, Pachano worried this is not happening and that “the connection between the past and the present is weakening.” She said the Cree way of life isn’t just about hunting, fishing and trapping, but even so, the Cree are neglecting to pass on the traditional and spiritual teachings to the youth. Pachano added the Cree leadership cannot be expected to resolve all of the problems and challenges facing the Cree Nation and thus the Elders are ready to step in. “They merely want to help,” she wrote.

Pachano feels the money is available. “I know there are discretionary funds in the millions that could be allocated to the Elders. I suggest that $1,000,000.00 be taken off the top for the Regional Council of the Elders prior to allocations for other purposes,” she insisted. “If we were to total up all the funds that go to outside consultants and lawyers, I am certain that $1,000,000 would be insignificant by comparison.”

In the end, the Council Board allocated $369,738 to the Elders Council (another $55,805 was budgeted for the Youth/Elders). Last year, the Board of Compensation allocated $122,000 but hasn’t yet allocated this year’s funds. Monies for Elders are also received from the Quebec government at a rate of $119,000 each year for five years. The Regional Development fund kicked in $150,000. Overall, the estimated amount allocated to the Elders Council will be $700,000 to $750,000.