DSC_5805From living it up on the links to getting down to some old-school country music, about 400 Crees made the pilgrimage to Mont-Tremblant for the 4th annual Cree Nation Achievement Awards Annual Fundraiser just before the Labour Day weekend.

While the awards take place every second year during the Mont-Tremblant festivities, the annual golf tournament and extravaganza went off without a hitch and featured major names from worlds of hockey, entertainment and the James Bay business scene.

According to Diane Reid from the Cree Nation Achievement Awards Foundation (CNAAF), the organization has raised $150,560 to date.

Money raised at this event fund the following year’s awards gala and the great prizes bestowed on Eeyou Istchee’s top academic achievers.

Earlier this year the foundation presented academic awards of excellence to various secondary students, including iPads and laptop computers, at the Annual General Assembly of the Crees in Wemindji.

While the weather was grey and humid out on the greens of the Le Diable and Le Géant courses, the evening storms on August 30 couldn’t put a damper on the fine evening of festivities that featured speaking engagements by hockey greats Yvan Cournoyer and Steve Duchesne, music from Hee-Haw’s Gordon Tapp and the homegrown talents of the Daryl S Hester Band and Myriam Hasni.

“We used some high-profile names to attract people to the event,” said Reid.

Cree dignitaries included former Grand Chief Ted Moses, now the President of the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance, and recently elected Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark.

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In his speech Moses outlined the economic relationship the Crees have with the Mont-Tremblant business community. He acknowledged Serge Larivière of the Mont-Tremblant Airport, who is currently working on an air-access project to bring Mont-Tremblant clientele to Eeyou Istchee in partnership with the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) and Eeyou Istchee Tourism.

“I applaud entrepreneurs across our beautiful regions who are working very hard to improve touristic offerings and therefore this new relationship can only enrich both our regions,” said Moses. “Just recently, these two Cree tourist organizations along with their regional partner, Tourisme Baie-James, met with Minister of Tourism Pascal Bérubé to pave the way and set a table of discussions related to the Le Nord pour tous, the development plan north of the 49th parallel.”

Moses reviewed Cree political achievements, from the historic 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to the Paix des Braves to the recent New Governance Agreement.

“Despite all of these advancements, we haven’t given up on our furs and our traditions,” he noted. “But we recognize our future is within an integrated economy, and now we have the skilled and competent workforce to develop infrastructure and services,” he said.

“There was a great lesson that our first Grand Chief, the late Billy Diamond, knew well. As a youngster, he watched the floatplanes that flew into the coastal villages that would one day be transformed into a company called Air Creebec. Today the Cree Nation operates one of the largest independent regional air transit carriers in Canada.”

Highlighting other Cree business success stories, Moses mentioned Kepa Transport, Cree Express and Petronor before turning his focus towards the future and the impacts of the new of fibre-optic networks in James Bay. The lesson, he emphasized, is that Eeyou Istchee is open for business.

Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark was on hand to talk about the role of the CNAAF, the changes that have been made within the association and the impact the foundation will have on the Cree Nation.

Mark announced the addition of a new lifetime achievement award category as well as the creation of male and female categories for the sports awards. Among the awards for academic excellence there will be a new category for professional certification. In the arts category there will now be separate nominations for performing arts, dance and music.

“The enhancement of the achievement awards is to link them with the Aboriginal national initiatives, such as Indspire, previously the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. Securing major sponsors is essential in order to solicit high-profile guests who can be an inspiration and role models for our youth,” Mark said.

“If we are to achieve grander things in the celebration of our achievements, every aspect of organization for the achievement awards and for its fundraising must be based on the spirit of volunteerism from the business community at large.”

For hockey fans of a certain age, however, the evening’s highlight came when Habs legend Yvan Cournoyer took the stage.

Having been the hit of the event two years ago, Cournoyer said he jumped at the opportunity to golf and celebrate with such “nice people.”

Cournoyer wished a happy birthday to his golfing partner, the CRA’s Eddy Diamond, whose birthday. Then he told folks how fortunate he felt to have led a life in which he was able to do what he loved most before taking questions from the floor.

After telling the crowd Toe Blake was his favourite coach, Cournoyer revealed how he got his “Roadrunner” nickname.

“It was (Blake) who called me the Roadrunner. I was in New York one afternoon and I think I had the wind behind me as I was skating really quickly. I had scored a few goals and a reporter from Sports Illustrated came in afterwards and said to me, ‘You were really like the Roadrunner; you were skating so fast that nobody could catch you.’ The story went in as ‘the Roadrunner scored two goals because nobody could catch him.’

“Two weeks after that, back in New York, the same reporter came up to me and I asked him, what did you do to me? I put that the Roadrunner scored two goals and that nobody could catch him.

“Yes, but now I am going to have to skate fast like that for the rest of my life, I have no choice,” said Cournoyer.

Not everything was about hockey however. Cournoyer was asked what his favourite fight was and whether or not he won. He had a quick quip that had everyone giggling.

“Well, I fought my two sisters and I won, but not against my brother,” he said.

Hockey great Steve Duchesne, for his part, admitted how hard it was to follow his hero. While he did not walk the lengthy comedic path that his predecessor took, he did talk about his hockey school.

“I grew up in Sept-Îles and was very lucky to have people who helped me and pushed me to get better at hockey and stay focused on that. This is why Guy Charbonneau and I have a hockey school today in Sept-Îles that we have been running for over 30 years,” said Duchesne.

“I would love to offer my service to the Cree Nation and maybe come up to do some hockey schools because at the end of the day, it is really all about the kids. If my story can inspire the kids and help teach them, I can offer my services.”

Fairmont Tremblant Resort

While attending the golf benefit and gala, the Nation reporters had the pleasure of staying at the Fairmont Tremblant and received a tour of the recent renovations at the hotel, which upgrading all 314 of its rooms and suites.

While still incorporating the bringing-the-outdoors-inside theme, the new design swaps out the old-school yellows for contemporary greys and charcoals.

“We have done a ‘soft goods’ renovation and so that means carpets, textiles, wallpaper, paint and some brand essentials like alarm clocks, new shower heads, rounded shower poles to create more space in the shower and we have put glass tops on all of the furniture,” said Johnson.

Other upgrades include large mirrors in every room, reading lights have been added to all of the bed heads for all of those who want to snuggle up in bed with a book or do some late-night knitting.

Between the plush new beds and new décor, staying at this fabulous resort was like being in a Ralph Lauren wonderland.