I am writing in response to the January 30, 2009 article entitled “Nest egg cracks” (Nation, Vol. 16, Issue 6). First off, although I spoke with Will Nicholls on several occasions and provided him with a copy of the Trust’s presentation to the December Council Board meeting, I was never contacted by the author of this article. This article is a great disappointment to my fellow trustees and myself not because of the attempt to blame us for the results of the world-wide economic meltdown but because this misinformation only serves to undermine the Cree people’s confidence in an important aspect of our hard-won self-government and mischaracterizes its role in our society.
The $1.1 billion resulting from the New Relationship Agreement with Canada is meant to be spent over the 20-year term on the federal obligations assumed by the Cree Regional Authority for that period. How it is spent will greatly influence how our rights are recognized in the context of the subsequent renewals. The consultations with the beneficiaries prior to ratification showed widespread support for a Trust to provide a balance against the immediate pressures facing our elected leaders and the need to ensure that this fund endures for the 20-year period and is used wisely and in conformity with the Agreement.
As was explained throughout the extensive consultations the primary role of the Trustees is not and was never meant to be that of an investment manager. Our most important role is to exercise our fiduciary duties in order to ensure that the funds are used in a sustainable manner to meet those obligations and not in a manner which could be detrimental to our rights. At times this may require saying “NO” in order to balance the needs of the present with the future. The Trustee are like the Tallymen whose role it is to safeguard the long-term ability of the land to sustain us. The Trust Deed also calls for an Advisory Board to assist us in establishing and reviewing investment policy and determining the level of annual pay outs. I’m pleased to say that we have appointed three extremely qualified nationally renowned and experienced independent people whose only interest is to help us carry out the mission of the Trust.
With regard to the investments our asset mix of 40% equity and 60% fixed income reflects the fact the funds are meant to be spent over the 20-year period. The equity portion is invested in shares in major corporations all over the world and is managed by reputable investment management firms whose performance is constantly monitored. Unfortunately, the market value of these investments has declined substantially as has those of every pension fund, endowment fund and trust fund in the world, including the rest of the Cree Nation’s funds. No fund in the world has been immune from the adverse consequences of the greatest global financial turmoil since the Depression. Funds with a higher equity component fared worse. As the world’s economies recover so will our investments. Fortunately our portfolio is structured in such a way that we need not touch these equity investments over the next year or two.
I sincerely hope that I have been able to correct any mischaracterization of the role of the Trust and its Board and have placed the state of its investments, in light of the world-wide financial and economic crisis, in the proper context. The Trust will be producing an annual report for the period ending March 31, 2009, which will be made available to all and I hope that everyone will read it carefully and properly inform themselves.
Matthew Coon Come
Cree Nation Trust
Ed note: Mr. Coon Come was approached by the author of the article in question. He told her he did not feel comfortable without access to his computer or notes. After other calls the journalist then requested my assistance. During numerous calls and emails made by myself, the monetary losses and markets were never discussed in any detail. The Nation only received a copy of the power-point presentation. Due to deadlines and the length of time the story was taking we went ahead with what we had. The Nation looks forward to doing a complete story at the end of March when the Trust Fund year-end report is due.