February 10 became a historic day for the Nation of Eeyou Istchee as five community Chiefs handed over their cheques and inked the deal with Eeyou Power, the newly formed Cree energy company.

Chiefs from Eastmain, Nemaska, Oujé-Bougoumou, Waskaganish and Waswanipi took part in a formal signing of the documents to become partners in Eeyou Power. The Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company (CREECO) also signed on at the ceremony as they were involved in setting up the company with the communities.

“Today is a historic moment for the Cree Nation – we are planting the seeds for tomorrow,” said Eastmain Chief Rusty Cheezo.

The ceremony began with CREECO President and Eeyou Power board member Jack Blacksmith congratulating everyone on this important occasion and acknowledging the company’s origins. Eeyou Power began as a working group in 2004 between Nemaska Chief Josie Jimiken and Bertie Wapachee, who wanted to see Crees develop sustainable energy and be in control of such a project.

Besides representatives from the five communities, Whapmagoostui Chief Stanley George and several of his Council members were also in attendance, announcing their intention to sign on later in February.

Though Eeyou Power only made their presentation to Whapmagoostui two weeks before the formal signing, George said his community was quick to sign on because the deal could mean leverage for the company in preventing any further hydroelectric projects within their territory.

“We cannot let Hydro or other people come in and start damming our rivers while we sit back and get nothing but a big paycheque and that is the last of it. I told the community that the opportunities are there for us to develop our resources and to take charge of our territory.”

Possible job creation and economic spin-offs for Whapmagoostui were also a major factor in the community’s decision to sign on.

George is also hoping that the possibility of developing a wind-power project in the area might just stave off Hydro-Québec from developing the long-shelved Great Whale project.

A beaming Wapachee expressed his satisfaction with seeing this dream come to true. “When you think about 2004 to now, all it took was a little patience. We kept going and finally it is here. Today is a good day,” he said.

According to Blacksmith, now that the signing is done, Eeyou Power’s next move is to get the involvement of the remaining four Cree communities: Mistissini, Wemindji, Chisasibi and Washaw Sibi. He said the door remaines open to those who haven’t signed on yet.

The company will now go to Hydro-Québec to present themselves as a viable enterprise that can take on energy development and production projects that involve sustainable development.

The company however cannot go ahead with various projects without a deal with Hydro-Québec as they would be the client.

Blacksmith was also elated by the Whapmagoostui’s announcement to sign on. “I am very happy because we did not visit them early enough and they were just short on time when it came to signing. But they have made it known that they will sign on. This is really good for us because this is the sixth community. I am really hoping that the other communities will come on. If we can get every community involved in this company, it is going to go a long way,” he said.

Besides being thrilled to see six long years of planning turn into a reality, Jimiken was also looking forward to what Eeyou Power will do for the Cree people.

Jimiken spoke of how this project will not only see the Crees derive benefits from developing resources within their own communities, but how they will be in charge of the development through their own company. For him, the project will increase economic development at both community and regional levels, and create more permanent jobs.

“Nemaska is proud of this initiative. It was the community that first approached the idea of setting up this kind of a thing on behalf of the Cree Nation. I am sure that all of the members are very proud of this today,” said Jimiken.