Cree leaders will host a Roundtable for post-secondary students in Ottawa March 16 and 17. The Roundtable on Capacity Building will brief Cree post-secondary students about treaty agreements with the Canadian government and employment opportunities available to them.

The Roundtable will be free for the 400 students that the Planning Committee estimates will attend.

The two-day exercise at the Westin Ottawa Hotel and Conference Centre will feature guest speakers, including Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, and discussions among participants.

The conference will outline various nation-to-nation agreements and negotiations for the students, who have opportunities to quiz the people negotiating for the Grand Council on the process and impact of the agreements, past and future.

“We [will] explain and empower students and make sure they feel that they belong, have tools, and are part of a strong nation” stated Tina Petawabano, co-chair of the Roundtable Planning Committee and Director of Quebec Relations for the GCC.

The second day features a panel that discusses employment opportunities and how they relate to the agreements.

Abel Bosum, co-chair of Roundtable Planning Committee and former chief of Ouje-Bougoumou, explained that the invited students need this high-level briefing since they will be the future leaders of Eeyou Istchee. “It is important that they understand these agreements which also contribute to services and the economy by creating jobs,” Bosum said.

Four main organizations are involved in the Roundtable; the GCC, Cree School Board, Cree Health Board, and CREECO. Representatives from these organizations will inform students of how recent agreements have created opportunities for employment in their respective fields.

Abel Bosum stated this is part of the Roundtable’s goal “to identify various jobs that are available and provide advice on how students can get there.”

“There are many positions available from the Grand Cree Council needing forestry engineers and lawyers to the Cree School Board needing teachers” said Tina Petawabano.

The Planning Committee is discussing bringing this agreement awareness program to primary and secondary schools.

“We are looking at visiting schools, inviting parents to attend, and bringing past negotiators to speak to both students and parents,” said Petawabano.

The need for such a Roundtable reflects the new economic opportunities that have arrived in Northern Quebec because of recent agreements.

“This is the first such Roundtable held… this is an opportune time since the new Agreement on Governance was passed in July,” said Petawabano, citing the agreement reached with the Quebec government that restores Cree Nation rights over Category II and III lands.

The Planning Committee views the Roundtable is part of a larger effort “to obtain the education and the skills to assume this range of opportunities so that we, ourselves, can exercise meaningful control over the territory.”

Tina Petawabano hopes to make students “feel inspired, ask questions and understand, and leave with a better understanding about the agreements.”