Despite sinking millions of dollars into Cree economic-development efforts, non-Crees outnumber Crees three-to-one at the three largest Cree economic entities, according to figures from the Grand Council.
The situation is even worse when just full-time jobs are considered. Cree Energy, Air Creebec and Cree Construction employ 253 non-Crees in full-time posts, compared to only 55 Crees—a ratio of five-to-one.
“There’s too much dependency on non-Crees to run these companies,” conceded Rod Pachanos, chair of the Cree Board of Compensation. “When they started, it was supposed to be for the Crees, by the Crees. It didn’t turn out that way.”
But Pachanos said in a phone interview from Val d’Or that Crees themselves are partly to blame for the problems. “We can’t put someone in there who isn’t qualified. Nobody took it upon themselves to get training. We can’t force someone to get training.”
Figures from the Grand Council show that only 31 percent of the 665 workers at Cree Energy, Cree Construction and Air Creebec last year were Crees. Crees are also more likely to be doing part-time jobs instead of full-time work, which tends to be more secure and well-paid. Only 36 per cent of the Crees employed at the entities were full-time, compared to 55 per cent of non-Crees.
Pachanos said Cree economic-development companies are currently restructuring to hire more Crees in top positions and cut persistent financial losses. “There has been an application of Cree values in how these companies are going to be run. For two years, we have been trying to improve the situation.”
The Board of Compensation is the body that administers the $130-million heritage fund granted to the Crees under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975. Pachanos is also president of the James Bay Eeyou Corporation, which administers $100 million granted to the Crees in 1986 under the Opemiska Agreement.
The administration of the Board of Compensation came under fire in a recent study done for the Grand Council. The study found that the Board of Compensation has invested $43 million in the Cree economic entities during the last decade. But due to persistent losses, those companies are worth only $23 million today.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come expressed concern about the study’s findings in a letter to Cree leaders on Jan. 19. “The analysis shows that we have not been very successful at creating Cree employment and that Creeco is not profitable.”
Pachanos wouldn’t comment on Coon Come’s letter, beyond saying, “What he was referring to was something in the past. That’s why I didn’t get excited about it. We can’t undo things that happened in the past. Hindsight is 20-20. If we had a crystal ball, we’d never make mistakes.”