There were mumbles and grumbles but none of the expected rumbles for the first $70 million installment to be delivered from the Paix des Braves. It was a process that, in the words of Chief Reggie Mark, was something that “should have started back in December.” The chiefs and council/board members at times seemed to be ready to fight each other. You could almost hear the knives being sharpened before everyone calmed down and started to talk.
It was an understandable situation, as the chiefs were stressed. The new fiscal year had started and no one knew how much of the $70 million they would be bringing home to their communities. Chiefs complained they couldn’t put out tenders for work or projects until they had a commitment on the money.
“I can’t plan what is going to be a priority or how much I can do,” said Chief Robert Kitchen, adding that his yearly plan wasn’t ready to implement. Kitchen also wanted to have a three-or five-year disbursement plan in place so planning could be done much earlier. He would be disappointed as it came down to eleventh-hour decisions just to divide up the money between Nation-as-a-whole obligations and the nine communities. There just wasn’t enough time to plan for the future at that point, but Kitchen says they will have to start planning on how to deal with the problems of “catch-up needs” in housing, infrastructure and economic development in the communities.
In the end, the chiefs got together and stopped arguing. They agreed to help each other out and sacrifice some of the community funds to ensure that all communities would benefit. You can see this in Chart I, which shows the final division of monies to the communities with community sacrifices. Some of the sacrifices involved Whapmagoostui’s isolation factor (higher construction costs) and building of community centres. The basic breakdown shows $49.5 million going to the communities, $10.5 million going to the Heritage Fund and $10 million going to take care of other obligations.
Grand Chief Ted Moses acknowledged that it was a long process to divide the pie. “It was six working days but it wasn’t only about allocating the $70 million. We managed to conduct other Cree Nation business,” he said.
Moses said the differences in how to divide up the money was normal. “We could have done nothing to resolve this issue of the money but in the end we all came together. The chiefs are talking to each other and beginning to understand each other.”
Moses admitted that in the end, he placed pressure on the Council/Board members to make the compromises and come to a decision. “They have to be a part of the decision and if they are not willing to compromise then they are a greater part of the problem. In my opinion this is normal and when we took a break I asked them to talk to each other and come up with a solution so we could authorize the flow of money.” Moses said that’s how the processes led to a solution where people are reasonably happy.
Moses is happy with the result, but, “I can’t say that I am ecstatic about the availability of resources to areas where I have to make a cut. I recognize, though, there are needs. I think we determined the priorities and respected the principles to arrive at amounts we can live with.” Moses said he would have been happier with more resources and a federal Paix des Braves. “At least we have some tools to work with in developing the economy and the communities and to assist the Cree trappers and other stakeholders.”
Dreams and harsh reality
A dream budget (see Chart 2) that would have satisfied all interested parties was more than $30 million over budget.
Abel Bosum, assisted by Roderick Panchano, led the discussions on the Governance and the New Relationship. Bosum reminded everyone that a Special General Assembly in Mistissini saw the Cree people with demands for transparency in monies being distributed. He also talked about the strength Crees had because of the unity they showed the world. Another important part of the distribution of monies was the specific obligations Crees undertook. They ranged from funding the Cree Trappers Association, Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association, Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association, building community centres, job creation, a private ventures fund, to paying back monies to Eeyou companies and the Board of Compensation.
When the final allocation of money to the communities was finalized Moses reminded the chiefs that they would have to provide figures to the Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority on how the money was spent. He reminded them of the desire for an accountability factor by the Cree people. It was much more relaxed than the usual bells and whistles demanded by Indian and Northern Affairs.
The final disbursement of the money hasn’t left everyone happy. The cash-strapped Cree Trappers Association, which received $3 million last year, was asking for $10 million. During the first days of the meeting Thomas Coon made an impassioned plea for the full amount. During the second set of meetings he brought it up again. Tentatively $6 million was looked at, but at the final meeting only $10 million had been set aside for all obligations, commitments, projects and organizations, and Coon knew at that point the CTA request would be cut further.
“This is the third time I have come before you,” said a visibly upset Coon. He said that hunting and trapping was one of the foundations of Cree life and culture. Responded Moses: “We cannot please everyone all the time. Some of us have to accept what has been decided. Obviously the communities need infrastructure, essential sanitation services and there is a great need for housing. You can’t gloss over those needs.” He went on to say the CTA should be getting a “substantive amount” but under the circumstances a compromise had to be made.
Moses went on to say that if there are no projects in the communities people will be feeling a different type of pinch.
He was followed by Washaw Sibi Chief Billy Katapatuk, who brought up the plight of his land-less community. At the end of his speech he added a resounding “Go, Habs, Go!” to laughter.
This was the area where the cuts would be deep. “I think everyone has to bite the bullet,” said Moses, adding they would try to be as fair as possible to all the stakeholders. “They certainly have a right benefit but under the circumstances we can’t respect their requests to the fullest.”
The executive committee will be making those decisions and the results will be in the next Nation. Moses said the $32 million in excess in the dream budget is indicative of the needs and desires of the Cree and the communities.
Moses said that it was a learning process to prioritize all the needs of the Cree Nation. “I think we need to think more about the Nation collectively as a Nation. We have to start acting as a Nation, as a government, rather than by the community vis-à-vis Grand Council. The people sitting around the table are not only representatives of their community but also of the Nation. We have a responsibility not only to think of our community but of the collectivity of the whole Nation. I hoping that the thinking will develop in that way.”
This was the first time that the meeting was aired over the Cree Radio Network from Montreal. The Cree Radio Network will air all Council/Board meetings in the future. This is something that Luke MacLeod of the JBCCS was proud of and during the meeting he reminded everyone that they were going out “live.” It seems someone had called someone else a bum during transmission.
A new and redesigned corporation is created coming out of the Agreement between the Cree and Hydro-Quebec in Niskamoon.
Part of the plan is to combine this corporation with SOTRAC, James Bay Eeyou Company, Apitissiiwin Corporation, Eeyou Names Corporation, Nadoshtin Corporation and Weh Sees Corporation. SOTRAC was responsible for remedial and mitigating works under section 8 of the JBNQA. Nadoshtin Inc. was responsible for remedial and mitigating works as well as the implementation of the Nadoshtin Agreement. Weh Sees Inc. was responsible for the development and management of wildlife regime during the project. Eeyou Names Inc was responsible for remedial and mitigating works related to the Cree fishery. James Bay Eeyou Companee does remedial and mitigating works related to the La Grande Complex. Apitissiiwin Inc handles the employment program as well as remedial and mitigating works under the Apitissiiwin Agreement.
It was pointed out that there were a lot of related activities by these corporations and it might be more efficient to put them under one umbrella since they all involve the Crees and Hydro-Quebec.
A preliminary list of five Crees to be on the Board of Niskamoon (plus three from Hydro-Quebec) met with opposition as they had been vetted by Hydro-Quebec. Chiefs and Council/Board members said those decisions had to be decided by the Council/Board, not Hydro. The final list of directors accepted by the Council/Board was Ashley Iserhoff, Steven Bearskin, Deputy Grand Chief Paul Gull, Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses and Losty Mamiamskum. They fulfilled the conditions of being from at least three different communities. This condition was brought up by Eastmain, who felt other communities seemed to be taking the lion’s share of committee and board positions. “Eastmain has some very good people also,” said Chief Edward Gilpin.
Health and Social Services
The Cree Health and Social Services Board came under fire from Gilpin and other chiefs. Gilpin said, “We are a small community and we sacrificed five houses so their workers could have housing. I would like to know when that is going to be paid so I can build them for my people. Any delay causes us hardship.”
Gilpin was referring to the program set up last year in which the Health Board requested 50 housing units from the communities for their workers. The communities would build the houses and lease them to the Health Board. This would effectively allow the communities to build the same amount of houses for their own community. It wasn’t until they were told that the Health Board wanted another 50 this summer that the chiefs started asking where the money went for the last year’s allotment. They were told the Health Board was trying to pass the Agreement through Cabinet (Quebec).
Some communities requested that infrastructure be included. But Quebec’s Health Ministry is balking at this, saying they are willing to pay for hook-ups to sewer and water but not new streets for new housing. “We shouldn’t be penalized because of other communities needs,” Gilpin said. We need to go ahead and build housing for our people.”
The chiefs agreed on that.
Another problem area for the beleaguered Board is there has been a request by Waswanipi Chief Robert Kitchen for a public inquiry into the Cree Health and Social Services Board.
A new fiscal policy was adopted by the Crees. Cree entities, which benefit from funds under the Eenou Eeyou Limited Partnership, agree not to use the same firm to do an audit and to provide financial management consultation services. In the United States, after the events surrounding Enron, this policy has been made law. It was decided by the chiefs that they would do this also to improve transparency and accountability. It also puts the Cree ahead of Canada and its government agencies.
It was also reported that federal and provincial representatives have been trying to insist that Cree entities register themselves as lobbyists. The Cree response is to lobby against this requirement.
Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority Board meetings July 20,21 September 15, 16 December 8, 9 February 23, 24
To discuss Annual General Meeting: August 8
Annual General Meeting:
August 17, 18, 19 in Wemindji
Forestry Issues: May 31, June I in Montreal (attended by communities affected by forestry operations) Nadoshtin: June 2, 3 in Montreal