As the Cree Nation has grown over the past 40 years, so has the Cree communications infrastructure – radio stations, magazines and newspapers. Now Eeyou Istchee could also see the addition of one or more Cree television stations.
“We’re going to look at it closely, it could be a year or two years,” said Rodney Hester, Economic Agent for the Cree Secretariat in Val d’Or and one of the members on a board designed to look into the feasibility of the project. Other board members include representatives from the Grand Council.
“It all depends on what we come up with in our research and development phase of the project. We can’t put a time on it right now, but the sooner, the better,” said Hester, who recently met with Mohawks from Kahnawake to discuss the success they’ve had with their television station. They also visited the facility.
“This will create jobs, generate revenue and long-term meaningful employment for the Crees,” said Hester. It will open up a new industry with telecommunications and change the way we communicate, the way we do business and build upon what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished so far, and take it to the next level.”
Hester said that the hopes are to have cultural, educational and language programs and said that the only boundaries are their imaginations.
“It’s long overdue,” said Hester. “The need and the audience are there. The interest is there. There’s every reason why we should go with it. It’s time.”
Peter Paul, who owns the television station which is complimented by a local cable service, available to the 8,000 Mohawks of Kahnawake, said that despite the cost, the benefits are enormous.
“It’s changed the dynamics of the community in terms of information,” said Paul. “You can literally have 24-7 access into houses, almost instantaneous. You don’t have to wait for a newspaper to be printed on a weekly basis. You don’t have to listen to radio during a certain time slot. It’s changed the dynamics for media in the community.”
His station cost “millions” to start up and operate, something which the Grand Council will find out as they do more research.
“The rough cost from one pole to another is $1,500, if you want a very quick calculation,” he said. “That’s for infrastructure. To build on the reserve, it depends 100 per cent on how many streets and telephone poles they have. Then it depends on how many channels they want to offer. It’s probably safe to say that each community’s head end will be minimum $100,000 to $150,000.
“If Waswanipi wants 100 channels and Chisasibi only wants 25 channels, there’s a major price difference in terms of that head end equipment you need,” Paul speculated.
“Their objective should be to capitalize and use it to its fullest advantage, meaning language and culture,” added Paul, who cautioned against using it for too much band propaganda. Even as a Chief, he does not allow too much politics on air and in the recent band council elections, he chose not to run his own advertisement to entice the people to vote for him.
Hester said that all of these questions and more will be examined closely and he doesn’t rule out a return to Kahnawake in the future.
“It’s a Cree project and they will decide on this project,” he said. “We plan to do community consultations and take note of inventory, human resources, facilities and equipment. We want everyone to feel involved. That’s the way we’ll communicate it to our people. It’s important and it’s time to get into this industry.”
Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff and Youth Grand Chief and Mistissini Councillor John Matoush were also on hand. Matoush intimated that Cree TV becoming a reality is just a matter of time.
“There’s a high unemployment rate in the Cree Nation,” he said. “I was thinking of the fact that 65 per cent of Cree youth are under the age of 30. These are things we’re trying to tackle and provide long-term employment rather than on a seasonal basis. Things that will be there in the long run, this can assist in terms of employment,” said Matoush, who added that a project like Cree TV will get the youth excited and motivated in ways they have not been before.
Matoush said that the Grand Council has been studying similar projects in Nunavut and New Zealand. If it can work in those places, it’s a shoe-in for Eeyou Istchee, he said.
“For sure we’ll need a lot of youth because they grasp the modern technology that is in the communities now,” Matoush continued.
“They understand and are able to play with the technology. So I think the need will be to get them trained and get them to understand more of it so they can be a big part of the project.”