There is a Hopi prophecy that says, following the turn of this century, a Nation will be a rise from the North who bear the symbol of the goose.
The goose, of course, is sacred to the Cree. And in the North of Quebec, a public notice, issued July 29, has brought New Hope to an ancient prophecy. The Cree Grand Council will hold an election August 28, with the would-be Grand Chief and Deputy-Grand Chief hot on the heels of an already remarkable millennium for the Cree.
Dr. Ted Moses is attempting to secure his second term in a row as Grand Chief, and his third time overall (his first tenure was from 1984-87). In 1999 Moses secured 45 per cent of the total votes cast, with Chief Kenny Loon trailing at 25 per cent. Mukash took 35 per cent of total vote, seating him next to Moses as Deputy. While those numbers seem disparate, it is only because in 1999 less than half the electorate bothered to vote. Since it is possible to become elected with as little as 30 per cent of the total votes, some candidates only share the support of as little as one in ten voters.
Who are your Grand Chief candidates?
Incumbent Dr. Ted Moses succeeded Matthew Coon Come as Grand Chief, and it is the current Deputy Chief, Matthew Mukash, who has now come to challenge Moses’s leadership. Mukash was also the Chief of Whapmagoostui.
Their opposition to one another dates back to the agreement negotiated between Moses and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry last year. Even before committing to a deal with Quebec, the Grand Chief knew what would happen to his community if he accepted.
“I knew that authorizing new hydroelectric developments on our land would tear our community apart,” said Moses to Maclean s magazine last February. “I knew there would be opposition. I knew that would not make me popular with everyone. But I was convinced this represented the best opportunity for the majority of us.” Critics called the agreement a sellout, yet no one was more adamant than Matthew Mukash was in his opposition to the deal. Mukash,
51, is a political science graduate from Concordia University in Montreal.
Moses eventually won a 70 per cent approval rating from the bands he consulted before signing the deal with Landry. And though he fell short of reaching consensus on key issues, there is certainly no debate over the length of his resume. His distinctions include serving as an ambassador to the United Nations on behalf of the Grand Council of the Cree, two-time Grand Chief and Chairman of the Cree Regional Authority, and key player in the negotiation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The previous council, led by Moses, was reputed as a powerful group that fought forestry tooth-and-nail with everything from multimillion dollar lawsuits to calculated international PR campaigns.
Another issue facing Cree voters comes from Ottawa. The Assembly of First Nations in July introduced a new agenda for the indigenous population of Canada. Contentious issues like the First Nations Governance Act have presented new leadership challenges, and the success of any future government will depend not only upon how these challenges are met, but whether or not there is a forum for consensus – prophecy or not.
There are five nominees this year for Deputy-Grand Chief: Alfred Loon, who works out of Montreal as an economic development officer with the Cree Regional Authority. Loon, who is from Mistissini, is also a Concordia alumnus (BA in Economics, 1993).
Losty Mamianskum (Whapmagoostui) is a grassroots advocate, and has served as a representative for the CRA, as well as an advisor to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. On the Cree Nation: “know what their concerns are because I lived through it.” At the time of the last election in 1999, Paul Gull had his hands full after being named Chief of the Waswanipi Band. At the time, the Waswanipi Nabatuk sawmill project had lost a considerable amount of money. Also, a forestry corporation, called Mishtuk, owed the Band $ 1 million in unpaid stumpage fees. Still, Gull goes into the election with experience, having previously managed the Grand Council’s forestry file, which included its $500 million lawsuit against Quebec and Canada to halt clearcutting on Cree lands.
As of 1999, Waswanipi was experiencing 23 per cent unemployment rate in a community of 1,500. In his 1999 campaign, Gull vowed to take a strong stand against forestry.
Like Matthew Coon Come before him, Kenny Loon was elected Chief of Mistassini. In 1998, Hydro Quebec was still shopping around the Rupert-Eastmain project, which eventually would lead to the flooding Election Round-up Relationship Between the Government of Quebec and the Crees of Quebec promises an eventual $3.5 billion injection into the Cree infrastructure over a 50-year period, though not all communities will be affected like Mistassini and Chisasibi.
Nation Editor William Nicholls offers a platform that has a familiar ring in a post-Enron world: Accountability. Transparency. Even in his last campaign for Deputy-Grand Chief, Nicholls was making some unpopular proposals. He suggested introducing rules on ethics and conflict-of-interest to help make Cree leaders more accountable; he opposed any deals with Hydro-Quebec, and advocated the need to address a growing youth population. Three years later, his platform is more refined, but the song remains the same: re-evaluate legal strategies to cut costs, bringing the Ouje-Bougoumou toxin crisis to the table, along with a call for responsible leadership and transparency in government. To seal the deal, he is even offering to donate 10 per cent of his salary to hockey and broomball in Eeyou Istchee.
An interview with Losty Mamianskum Mention grassroots in any of the nine Cree communities, and those who know his story will tell you about Losty Mamianskum.
Grassroots defines more than a political platform – it also give one an idea of how far Mamianskum went before rising as a candidate to lead his people.
For Mamianskum, his understanding for the need to address social issues has more to do with experience than rhetoric: a recovered alcoholic, he drank for 14 years of his life. After working as a janitor and even stocking shelves for a living, he has experienced enough to know how people within his community can suffer.
Since then he has gone on to be a representative on the Grand Council of the Cree for two years, a board director for CRE, and the Quebec representative for an RCMP advisory committee on First Nations. Can Deputy-Grand Chief be next?
Nation: How did you decide to run?
Losty Mamianskum: A lot of soul-searching. I was asked and it came as a surprise, because I’ve never been one to seek out power and recognition. After some personal reflection, I decided that I owed it to the people who are nominating me to at least try.
What do you consider to be the issues facing the Cree Nation in this election?
Actually, I’m still working on my portfolio, but I would like to see the Cree Nation unified again. People want to be self-governing in the true sense, and people feel that hasn’t happened yet. The Cree Nation has a governing structure in place, which is the Grand Council of the Crees, and it’s administrated under the Cree Regional Authority. But not many people know how this structure works. I would also like to see the streamlining of existing institutions within the Cree Nation, and a move away from corporatization with more grassroots feedback going into the decision-making processes.
How should the Grand Council respond to the First Nations Governance Act?
I think what Indian Affairs is doing is trying to do is overhaul a colonialist law that is outdated; I’m not sure if it’s relevant to our case. I think the Cree Act is basically the same, or similar to that of the Indian Act, in that it does not [reflect any] respect from the [federal and provincial] governments. We have moved beyond what was originally anticipated as a governance structure in the Cree Act, and so the Act itself has proven to be outdated.
As a leader of the Cree Nation, what are the communities’ concerns?
Certainly social issues, as well as great concern for the environment. But I think that there are existing mechanisms that we can use to their full potential, such as the James Bay Agreement.
Understanding and Governance The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Astchee) act as the central Cree political body. The council has 20 members: a Grand Chief and Deputy-Grand Chief, each of the chiefs from the nine Cree communities, and one other representative of each community.
The Council was formed in 1974 when Crees were negotiating with the Quebec and Canadian governments about our rights in face of the James Bay hydro-electric scheme, which had already been under construction since 1971. Back then, was no formal Cree political organization, except that they were members of the Indians of Quebec Association.
Members of the council also act as representatives for the Cree Regional Authority (CRA), which was created to act as the Cree regional government responsible for the administration of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
The qualifications for eligibility to vote in the elections are as follows: a) To be a Cree beneficiary in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement; b) To be of the age of majority at the date of the elections ( 18 years of age on August 28. 2002).
c) Not to be affected by any legal incapacity.