There is a new player in the expanding world of Cree organizations. The Eeyou Istchee Consortium has been formed in the wake of the new agreement between the Cree and the government of Quebec. The Consortium is designed to orchestrate Cree resources to help meet the expected growing demand for employment in the new, rapidly changing economic environment in the James Bay region.

Conceived at a meeting in Val d’Or, organized by Billy Diamond early last December, the Consortium was formed as a non-profit entity with a mandate to ensure that job contracts can be accessed by the Cree labour force and that those contracts will be distributed fairly. The Consortium seeks to network with all Cree businesses and services in an understanding of mutual cooperation for the economic benefit of all.

The Eeyou Istchee Consortium, which will be based in Nemaska, has appointed one representative from each of the nine communities to act on its board. The board members bring with them a variety of backgrounds and experience including small business, economic development, politics, and youth.

The nine community representatives are: Davey Bobbish, Chisasibi; Willy Gilpin Jr., Eastmain; Don Macleod, Mistissini; Thomas Jolly, Nemaska; Nick Paradisis, Ouje-Bougoumou; Jack Diamond, Waskaganish; Marlene Kitchen, Waswanipi; Reggie Mark, Wemindji; Gary Petagumskum, Whapmagoostui.

Don Macleod has been appointed as President of the Interim Board, which will be either confirmed or revised once the official charter has been finalized. For the moment, this is a working group that will meet every week or two through conference calls.

The Consortium has also appointed an executive committee to oversee the management of its affairs. The executive committee members represent different regions, businesses and services. Committee members include Jack Blacksmith (regional economic etities), Steven Bearskin (construction), Albert Diamond (transport/ services), Don Macleod (inland rep.), Kenneth Gilpin (coastal rep.), Tania Pash (treasurer/ fiancial advisor), J.P. Murdoch (corporate secretary), Jimmy Macleod (small business/ inland rep.) and James Blackned (small business/coastal rep.).

The hoped for contracts, foreseen in the immediate future, come on the heels of additional monies promised by Hydro-Quebec before the finalization of the AIP. The utility giant threw an additional $865.5 million into the pot. According to Don Macleod, the money will be spread over a number of contracts to be awarded to develop the proposed Eastmain and Rupert River projects.

Hydro-Quebec has earmarked $300 million for the first contract, the EM-1 project. An additional $1.5 million has been set aside for training funds in order to ensure that the necessary skills are in place to be able to handle the enormous projects. Work for Em-1 will include slashing and construction of 80 kilometers of road, construction of a camp to house 2000 workers at its peak as well as catering and other services.

The target start date for the project is sometime in April with initial construction to be completed by November. Short-term projections for job creation, based on Hydro-Quebec schedules, estimate some 21 Cree jobs in the first month, 42 in the second month, and up to 238 jobs at the peak of the contract.

The Rupert project, which will require extensive environmental impact studies to be conducted before its initiation, won’t come in for another two to four years, but will require at least as much labour input as EM-1 if not more. The second project will involve contracts in excess of $290 million. By 2003, Hydro-Quebec estimates that it will need to hire 365 workers for unskilled jobs. Skilled labour could mean even more opportunities for the Cree work force. The two projects could provide up to ten years of work, especially in construction. Once the projects are completed, additional work will be needed in areas such as road maintenance.

It is the responsibility of the Eeyou Istchee Consortium to ensure that Crees are up to the task of handling the contracts. Hydro-Quebec’s offer of employment opportunities for Native workers will only be available if the Cree can demonstrate that they have the tools, skills and manpower to get the jobs done. The Consortium hopes to pool available resources in order to meet these new demands. An effort will also be made to encourage the youth to take advantage of the coming employment opportunities by using education to obtain the necessary skills.

By joining forces between different Cree enterprises, companies will be able to help each other in achieving higher levels of competency. The Consortium will evaluate which companies are best-suited to handle the various jobs. For instance, if one company has strengths in certain areas but lacks enough capital to bid for a contract, it might be pooled with another that has the the money but lacks necessary materials. It is the hope of Don Macleod that wide partnerships can be formed in an effort to work together and “make sure that everyone gets a fair shake.”

The Eeyou Istchee Consortium will act as a watchdog group to ensure that the Cree get their fair share of contracts and that those contracts are fairly distributed among the various businesses, services and communities. In a best case scenario, the aquisition of skills and experience will lead to future opportunities beyond those offered by Hydro, mining and forestry interests. “I hope (the Cree) will work together,” said Don Macleod, “and understand that they are working for themselves in the future.”