I know a bit of what it’s like to be chief. I feel their pain. I first realized this while trying to enjoy a night of cordials at the Cabarrete night club in glamorous Chibougamau several weeks back.
There I was, settling in with a cold drink, getting ready for the show when a young Cree gentleman approached. “You’re from the Nation! I like the Nation!” I thanked him politely, hoping he’d leave after I noticed his head was clearly full of booze and a long list of ideas for the betterment of the Cree people.
From what I could decipher from his heavily slurred speech, he had just arrived from Chisasibi and had learned a few things of that community’s plight. “You have to do something! They’re in danger! If those dams break, they’ll be under hundreds of feet of water!”
His voice almost broke from the emotions he was feeling. I nodded and shifted one seat over, hoping he had said his piece. Instead he sat down beside me and repeated what he had said almost word for word. “I know, man, I know,” I said.
He must have figured I was hard of hearing or a slow learner because he again repeated what he had said. I didn’t want to appear rude and snobbish so I sat there nodding and hmmming when I thought it appropriate to do so. Our conversation was in serious danger of dragging on past closing time so we told him we were off to another bar, far, far away from this place. “You have to help them, man!” he pleaded as we headed for the door. “I’ll get on it right away, man.” I said and walked out.
I imagined him drunkenly slumping into his seat by the video lottery terminals, his mind at ease, now that finally someone was on the case so that the people of Chisasibi could again sleep soundly. His mission accomplished, he could finally concentrate on the task of charming that ravishing girl from Ouje-Bougoumou.
My years of travel through Cree territory, its streets, its restaurants and its bars has taught me that Cree Chiefs get harassed and accosted all the time. I once saw former chief Billy Diamond being hounded by some drunken stumblebum on a Waskaganish street. It sounded like the man wasn’t too happy with Diamond’s administrative techniques and he wasn’t going to let pass a golden opportunity to tell Diamond just what he thought. Billy seemed terribly annoyed and finally snapped, “Talk to me when you’re sober!” The man stopped, and just stared as his chief walked off.
It’s easy to see why chiefs and others of their ilk don’t spend their off hours in bars where normal everyday Crees drink. Their supporters wouldn’t stop extolling their many virtues and asking for free drinks. Their enemies wouldn’t shut up about what a crappy job they were doing and asking for free drinks. They just can’t win.
As journalists, we don’t have it as bad as our chiefs. It is similar in the sense that we also have our critics and we also get the pats on our backs. But we also expect plenty of free drinks. For some reason, however, many people think that we make as much money and have as much power and influence as our politicians. Maybe that would be the case in a perfect world, but the last time I checked, Utopia existed only in a book.
Speaking of which, the Utopia we were promised if only we would sign the deal to end all deals is slowly coming about. The $70 million cheque arrived as scheduled but the extra millions supposed to be included as per the Funding Formula apparently existed only in the Grand Council’s rosy presentations when the deal was first presented. According to an insider who was present at the meeting when the amount was revealed, many a chiefly head dropped in extreme disappointment when they were told that the extra money for this year was barely $1.5 million.
On paper, that amount may look pretty rich, but my sources say the amount barely covers our lawyers’ and consultants’ expenses.
Alas, hope springs eternal. According to the Grand Council soothsayers, those measly amounts can only increase as the years pass. But that’s only if more and more outside companies extract our precious resources and give us the tiny percentages they promised.
I know what it’s like being chief. I share their pain. I realized this when I heard of their collective reaction when they realized that they had been duped into believing that Utopia didn’t have to exist as a work of mere fiction.