Christopher Napash

Deputy Grand Chief candidate

CN: I am from Chisasibi but was born on Fort George Island.

I have been involved in politics both directly and indirectly over the course of my entire career.

I currently work as the Assistant Director of Operations for the Cree Nation of Chisasibi and have done this for the last 18 years. I have also worked for Canada Post for the last 10 years.

Beyond that I have been involved with the community both actively and proactively as a chairperson, a vice-chairperson or a member of many of our local community organizations. I guess that this is because people trusted me enough to elect me into these positions.

Why do you want to run?

CN: The slogan I am running under is “Building Our Nation, Building Our Future: Putting Our People First.” For me these are not just words, I really do believe that people come first. We want to run our own nation and build up our own people and so our community organizations are also important to our future and our children’s future.

The people also need to be involved in the whole process. When we look at the social issues going on in our communities we see that there are many areas where we need input from the people and they too know what the issues are that are really important to them.

We cannot just assume that we know everything that there is to know about how to set up the policies and procedures, laws and bylaws. We have to get all of this input from all of our respective communities.

As a region we also need strategic plans. This should be spearheaded by the community organizations and by the clientele that they are serving.

I believe that the Grand Chief, the Deputy Grand Chief as well as the Chiefs and Band Councils play a very important role in all of these efforts and realizing the hopes and dreams of the people.

I guess what I can say here is that this position and that of the Grand Chief play a very important role in how to lead the Nation and I really just want to be involved in helping realizing what the possibilities can be.

And what can you do for the Cree Nation that others can’t?

CN: While I don’t know what the other candidates’ capabilities are, what I can say here is that I am very committed to the tasks at hand, whatever they are. Because I have already been very involved in all sorts of community projects and initiatives in the past, I was always asked to do so for a reason and that is because I can get things done.

Give me your thoughts on an issue like education. There are many Crees with lower reading levels or who have dropped out. How would you address the issue of education for the Cree youth and adults?

CN: I was involved locally in the parents’ committee for four terms and because I have dealt with this issue in our communities in the past.

What I can say here is that we have tried a lot of different things here. Some of which worked, some of which did not work at all.

I think it is important to say here that Cree language is not something that we cannot take for granted.

A few weeks ago I had a wonderful opportunity to discuss this issue with a 101-year-old Elder. He began by saying to me that where he came from people did not speak Cree and that the language was disappearing from his community. This was something happening within his own lifetime, seeing a community that could speak its own language go to one that could not.

Cree is supposed to be a strong language and it isn’t something that we can take for granted anymore. For our language to prosper, we have to work on it in both written and spoken form.

How would you contribute to economic development in Eeyou Istchee?

CN: I have always seen myself as contributing to Cree economic life, especially in my own community as I have been very actively involved in all that happens in our community because of my position within the Band.

This is because everything that happens in Chisasibi comes through our office and so I have been able to see how things have progressed with each project from beginning to end over my 18 years.

Even before that, because of my involvement in other organizations I could say that I have always been involved in one way or another because sometimes from the proposals that we have sent from my office, I was often the one that made these things happen. And, the documents that would be sent were often my documents.

Is there anything that you would like to see happen for the health of the Cree Nation, given that there is still a diabetes epidemic happening and many are also suffering from other illnesses related to obesity?

CN: We need to come up with a vital strategy to promote awareness of some of these diseases that have now become rampant in our communities.

A lot of the things that we are going through, the social issues also, all stem from the way that we are brought up in the communities. Even health promotion is something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis and not just by the Health Board but the whole community.

I know personally what the effects of diabetes are in our communities. I am involved, both at in my personal and professional life, with people who have it. This is not just for the frontline workers that need to be doing things but also the people within the family units.

This has been an era of intensive negotiations between the Crees and the province. How would you support the Grand Chief in this area?

CN: First of all, the Grand Chief has to have the full support of whoever is in the position that I am running for, Deputy Grand Chief.

That person also needs to have support from all of the Chiefs and the full support of the people that are being negotiated for.

All of the negotiations that we are doing are not just for ourselves but to improve the lives of those in the communities. A lot of what will be negotiated is for the benefit of the people and their lives, the community profile and the community organizations.

Give me an example of an issue you have championed and how?

CN: I have been very much involved in many issues in my own community and sometimes at the regional level. One of those things that I am especially proud of is that I have been involved working with children and youth.

I have also been involved in trying to get certain things for people with special needs.

One of my biggest accomplishments was working on getting a new elementary school built in our community, though I wasn’t there when it opened. When I was on the school committee, we had lobbied our school administration and other bodies to get what we needed. It took many years and many, many meetings to get that one school.

I could also say that I was very involved in getting Chisasibi named as the community that would be the new home to the police headquarters as I did all of the documentation for that.

What can you do at the helm of the Cree Nation that currently isn’t being done?

CN: First of all, I have done a full assessment by hearing the people and what they have to say. I do hear the people’s many issues and concerns so that we can determine what is priority one, priority two, and so forth? This is one of the reasons for these campaigns: to hear, to acknowledge and to act on their concerns.

Secondly, we then need to formulate the plan, present to the people, following a process of full consultation with them in every step of the way. We cannot have any more done-deals for our people. We have to put the people first. It is them that we are serving – from the very young to the elderly, male and female, in all sectors of our communities.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

CN: I want to say in conclusion that I realize that this position is not an easy one. I am appreciative and truly honoured by this nomination. As I have stated in my slogan, “Building Our Nation, Building Our Future: Putting Our People First.” I really believe in these words I’ve chosen to use. If I am elected, I will do my very best to fulfill this role and the expectations that come with it.

Linda Lillian Shecapio

Deputy Grand Chief candidate

Tell me about you first and your career/political history?

LLS: I have always been involved in politics, and started in my teenage years as a member of the Mistissini Youth Council. I was also elected as a representative to the Board of Directors for the Cree Health Board from 2009-2011 as a Mistissini representative. Furthermore, from the previous local elections in my community, I was nominated and ran for Deputy Chief of Mistissini, which I lost in the run off against my good friend, John S. Matoush. Although I didn’t win the seat it was a learning experience and a good sign of people’s belief and support for me. As I reflect on that race, I must say now that I am grateful for that wonderful experience and it was a blessing in disguise for me. I am inspired by my people, and I believe although experience is a good quality we are all built to be a leader for ourselves in some capacity. We need to be simply inspired by ourselves with our bold actions. My parents and grandparents instilled in me to have inner strength, be bold, respect and appreciate my feminine beauty, and have confidence in the woman I am now.

Why do you want to run?

LLS: Foremost, as a Cree woman, mother, auntie, and a friend, I was honoured and humbled when I was nominated for the office of Deputy Grand Chief. Pondering the demands, responsibility of political leadership, I can honestly say it was not easy for me to make the decision to accept the nomination and run for the position. My faith and spirit remain with me always. I leaned towards Chimaandou (Great Spirit)/ God and I prayed about it. I opened up and allowed myself to reflect on my many positive abilities and my various work and life experiences.

I believe that my Nishiiyuu Life Skills Training (which I am proud to say, we were specifically trained by our Cree Elders) and my formal education (I received my undergraduate degree in Political Science, concentration in Public Affairs and Policy Analysis at Carleton University back in June 2006) have given me a strong foundation in this role.

First Nations people are headed for a movement of compassionate change, based on a grassroots perspective, and lead by First Nations women. The Idle No More Movement reached the four directions of Mother Earth, is, and continues to be a global success and I was totally blown away with this massive movement! First Nations women are indeed resilient, strong, powerful, and take action. My admiration and respect of all First Nation grandmothers, as movers and shakers, keepers of the continued efforts to preserve traditional languages, and keep our Cree culture alive is what makes me proud and humbled. The strength of women, especially leading this movement is what inspired, ignited and strengthened me to assert and exercise my role as a Cree woman in Eeyou Istchee.

I am a Cree woman who is confident, speaks the truth and will always be grounded with Cree values and principles. I believe in the balance and harmonious relationship between men and women. Because I was raised in a home and built a solid relationship with my dad and late grandfathers at a young age, I was taught to use my voice and advocate for a holistic and gender-balanced approach. I am a Cree woman who values matters of the heart, emotion, connection, and seeks to be engaged with many meaningful human experiences.

I am aware and whole-heartedly understand the need for healing in our nation. I believe I can lead my fellow Cree people, with the guidance of Chimaandou/God and Elders. I, as a Cree woman take action and assert my important and vital role that addresses the needed healing of the heartbeat of Eeyou Istchee.

And what can you do for the Cree Nation that others can’t?

LLS: In my healing journey, I am tremendously guided by our Elders. This experience has taught me many aspects of my inner strength and to respect all relations but more importantly, as I experienced inner peace, it allowed me to be fearless and trust the higher power of Chimaandou/God/Universe.

As a candidate for Deputy Grand Chief, and being raised to be humble, I respect my fellow candidates and I believe it is not my position to compare myself to others. One thing you must know about me, where I am in my life, I simply compete for myself. I believe everyone on this Mother Earth is given a gift to share and serve for their life purpose and because we are unique and different we cannot compete against one another.

With all due respect to our fellow Cree men, I believe that development and growth of the Cree Nation requires a women’s touch. A women’s perspective is needed and we must take our unique roles as women, as giving life, sustaining life towards compassion and unity for all people. Our Cree Nation is impacted from all these agreements affecting our people, way of life and rights. It is a call for action amongst us, Cree women, to assert and take back our roles and responsibilities towards a balanced and complimentary relationship with our fellow Cree men and have a women’s voice at a political level for the sake of health, wellbeing, and the heart and soul of our Eeyou Istchee.

Give me your thoughts on an issue like education. There are many Crees with lower reading levels or who have dropped out. How would you address education for the Cree youth? Adults?

LLS: Our children and youth are one of the most vulnerable populations, and we, as Cree people are responsible to educate and move forward with effective change and action-based solutions.

Nurturing and education begins in the home. We will never be able to address issues like low graduation rates if we do not define the importance of the “HOME.” As women and mothers, we must support our children from the home to the political arena. From parents, family dynamics, and community strength we are each contributing to the development of our children

We parents must be aware that our children’s life revolves around their schooling. So, we, Eeyou/Eenou nation need to establish and shift towards a collective approach that will positively affect and address the education in Eeyou Istchee. We all need to get involved and work together, and work towards preserving our Cree language, culture and arts within our education system. This will indeed empower the Eeyou Istchee but also, it will bring positive force of working together and radiating a collective action to our children that will promote enlightenment and a purposeful life for all.

How do you see yourself contributing to Cree economic life?

LLS: From my work experience and observations with clients as a former Career Counsellor (Inland) with the Cree Human Resources Development of Cree Regional Authority, I had the opportunity to do the frontline work and sat on a couple of working groups I discovered that, we, Cree people are really limiting ourselves by creating too much red tape in our policies and programs. We need to make changes in our processes to reflect Cree realities, and the issues at stake.

I have many concerns and questions about the state of economic development in Eeyou Istchee. One being, has the Cree Nation ever strategically planned for their economic quest or road map and vision and its viability within the communities, and the security of our future generations of Eeyou Istchee?

I believe we are one of the strongest Aboriginal groups, and the agreements we sign protect our inherent rights, but we need to plan and understand our needs as a nation before we implement them. We need to foster employment, entrepreneurship and support local community development. We need to plan not only for the economic growth but also the social implications and consequences that are occurring within our territory.

As these massive projects are taking place in Eeyou Istchee, we were promised increased employment in the areas of mining, forestry, and other activities impacting the environment of Eeyou Istchee. Are there any established individual development plans for the Cree workers? What positions are held and mostly composed of Cree workers ranging from management to labour? What other measures are in place, as these activities are happening in Eeyou Istchee?

With this said, the value of education is so crucial to moving Eeyouch/Eenouch forward. The relationship between education, economic development, and the wellbeing of Eeyouch/Eenouch is clear. Education is the foundation of economic development. Economic development, in turn, provides opportunity for greater choices and paths to well-being, MIIYUPIMATSIUN. Empowerment and expansion of opportunity and a chance to become independent towards preserving and strengthening is the key for the future of Eeyou/Eenou Istchee.

Is there anything that you would like to see happen for the health of the Cree Nation – rampant diabetes, obesity and illnesses stemming from that?

LLS: As a former member of the Cree Health Board, I saw many files that were active and we really needed to carry out a lot of work, and we needed a lot of support. We need to change our position when thinking of these issues because they are not simply health issues they are issues of MIIYUPIMATSIUN. We need to support each other as entities, and battle these issues together. With our Cree ways we can change our approach in focusing on being preventative not only reactive. My two focuses on social development look at land-based approaches that would emphasize the role that Elders play in our healing and using our land base for programming.

Cree social wellness policy is another area and here we need to define a common approach amongst all entities in planning for social development. As a member of this group I would like to see increased support for this project. It is time that we create a plan that we can all contribute towards. We need to approach social issues and development as a Nation for a positive outcome.

I would like to share my personal insight of healing. I am an individual who believes in being with oneness with oneself and connecting with the well-being of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Having a solid inner foundation for oneself allows one to go beyond present limited human-mind thinking and start thinking positive and it’s really about dropping limitations. It allows one to become aware, understand the very essence of life around us and to think with love.

This has been an era of intensive negotiations between the Crees and the province. How would you support the Grand Chief in this area?

LLS: As a strong believer in collective action and solidarity, I am a Cree woman who was raised to respect my ancestors and Elders. Therefore, I would consult my Elders, as they are the gatekeepers of wisdom, traditions, language and culture. Elders are vital towards a direction and vision for the advancement of spiritual and balanced life in Eeyou Istchee. I believe that our new governance is an excellent advancement for our Nation but I would like to see a greater involvement, understanding, and information for our people and communities.

I believe that as a Deputy Grand Chief I would be in a position to complement and mutually support our next Grand Chief… So I will await the candidate’s win.

Give me an example of an issue you have championed and how?

LLS: I am a strong, humble and hard-working women, and I can say that I have focused a lot of my energy on serving the Cree people in any capacity, and used skills and knowledge from all areas of my life, as a Cree woman and a mother, whether it be from my home, my community, and my nation.

I have focused my energy on various issues, but I want people to know that I strongly believe that it takes a team to take action – from great, committed and bold people to have a positive impact. We need to recognize our people and our skills and in doing so, take on our work and roles in a collaborative manner. A leader is a part of team, and without the efforts of those involved, the goal would never be reached.

What can you do at the helm of the Cree Nation that currently isn’t being done?

LLS: Generally, there is always a need for improvement, even with all we have achieved. We are a big success as a Nation. But our Nation is made up of people in communities. In my campaign I am paying attention on representing our roots, respecting our Elders’ guidance and a gender-balanced governance and making social development a major priority.

I would like the opportunity as Deputy Grand Chief to focus our efforts on strengthening, empowering and supporting our people.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

LLS: I would like to thank those individuals who nominated me for Deputy Grand Chief and thank all my supporters for believing in me. I would like to encourage all eligible voters, especially youth, to exercise their right to vote. With all respect to our fellow Cree men, as a Cree woman I encourage all our women to own their strength and to participate in the decision-making process. We need to preserve gender-balanced, harmonious, complementary roles and a holistic approach to governance.

I ask for your vote and support. Vote Linda for Deputy Grand Chief!

Robert Kitchen

Deputy Grand Chief candidate

RK: Let me start by thanking the community of Wemindji for nominating me. I have accepted with great honour and I would also like to thank my beautiful wife, Laura, and my two daughters Charity and Sylvia for the great support they have given me over the years. I also can’t forget to mention our “princess,” granddaughter, Shyne.

I really enjoy hunting, fishing, trapping and being an outdoorsman. I like to honour the land in the summer but also in the winter, going out on my skidoo over the many lands I have explored.

I completed high school in Hull, Quebec. I was the captain of all of the school sport teams that I was involved in: junior and senior basketball, football and rugby. I continued on to go to Cégep in Business Administration for three years and then took a lot of courses after that in Economic Development and Finance throughout my career.

I have a very strong economic background and while working at Eeyou Economic Group I had the opportunity to work with many entrepreneurs.

In terms of politics, my brother Abel Kitchen mentored me at a very young age. It was back in 1978 that he would invite me to these assemblies in Val-d’Or that were all related to implementing the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. I sat in on them.

As I got older I was invited to Annual General Assemblies in the communities and so it was there that my interest was sparked and I decided that I would be working for my people.

There are a lot of issues and a lot of implementation that has to be developed in building a Nation. I helped out at the local level in Waswanipi at what they used to call the “Youth Club.” This gave me actual hands-on experience in developing activities and ideas that would get the young people active and so I started from there.

I was the local Youth Chief when we established the local youth council in Waswanipi and this is where the whole momentum of the youth movement was established.

I am probably one of the youngest founding members of the Regional Youth Council. I was there when they passed the Resolution in Wemindji to develop the administrative arm of the Cree Nation Youth Council. From there I became the Youth Grand Chief.

I have also since served three terms as a Band Councillor in Waswanipi and was also Chief for a four-year term. In the last election I ran for Deputy Grand Chief.

Why do you want to run?

RK: I have a vision for the future that I would like to share with the Nation. Eeyou Istchee has always been known for its tremendous leadership.

We have overcome some of the greatest of adversities and in turn become a very powerful Nation. But, as a result of all of this, there are still many areas and issues we need to address.

I have a vision for the future and this vision begins with our youth. We need to implement a balanced economic development plan that is in line with our Cree values when it comes to protecting the environment.

Developing the communities and empowering the people will also be a priority to me if elected. We need to develop good, strong businesses and we need to do it right. It’s all about less talk and more action.

What can you do for the Cree nation that others can’t?

RK: I have this wonderful skill for bringing people together. This is not only my strength but something I have really learned the importance of: bringing groups together.

I am also very good at taking an idea and developing a clear strategy to make it a reality using a grassroots approach.

I am also very good when it comes to coordinating as well as collaborating. I think that we need to continue strengthening our Nation through greater collaborations between the communities and increasing the pride in a united Cree Nation.

Give me your thoughts on an issue like education. There are many Crees with lower reading levels or who have dropped out. How would you address education for the Cree youth and adults?

RK: What we really need to do here is engage our youth in the learning process and encourage interactive lessons where our youth learn by doing and through hands-on experience.

We need relevant materials that relate to our Cree education system and we need to continue to provide alternative education.

We also need to hear out the voice of our students and this is part of how the Cree youth council was developed. A youth voice emerged from this need and it just grew from there.

One of the biggest factors affecting our youth is the lack of prosperity in our region. There are limited job opportunities for them to look forward to and as a result there is no real motivation for them to finish their studies.

This prolonged employment issue has impacted many of our youth for many, many years and it not only impacts individuals but entire families. And so by improving the opportunities and creating real value incentives to get educated we can really begin to address these problems.

By engaging the youth and identifying the job opportunities for the youth and by really pushing things like the local career fairs we can create a better reality for our youth.

How do you see yourself contributing to Cree economic life?

RK: While working for Eeyou Economic Group and being part of various different economic Boards, I have had the opportunity to work with all sorts of different entrepreneurs throughout the Cree nation.

We definitely need to continue to encourage and promote our entrepreneurs, as we really need to capitalize on these local opportunities because this is where we can stop some of the financial leakage that happens with the Cree communities.

We also need to develop jobs and business opportunities for all who wish to pursue them.

There are a lot of areas out there where we need to focus such as focusing on our Cree energy development opportunities using green energy and renewable power.

We need to capitalize on a lot of development opportunities within our communities. I have experience in these areas as well as in forestry. I was involved in that when I was with Waswanipi. I also have experience in mining; I was the negotiator in an Impact Benefit Agreement and so I understand how to recognize an actual opportunity. I have also worked in developing wind power for Nemaska over the last four years. Another area that we really need to develop is tourism.

Is there anything that you would like to see happen for the health of the Cree Nation – rampant diabetes, obesity and illnesses stemming from that?

RK: We need change, immediate change. We need grassroots programs as well as better coordination between local and regional organizations.

We need to get our people moving and keep them moving through recreation and sports and leisure. This needs to be promoted at the highest level.

Awareness is also one of the key areas here and one of the important factors in fighting illness from an early stage. Many of our people are not aware of the impacts of some of the sugars and fats that they consume.

We have suffered through this illness so much already and so we really need to increase the activity with the young ones and also put more funding towards getting our youth to play sports and physical activity.

We need to develop partnerships with the local and regional entities to fight this illness as it cannot be handled by one department or one organization. There has to be a Cree Nation approach here.

This has been an era of intensive negotiations between the Crees and the province. How would you support the Grand Chief in this area?

RK: With the recent signing of Bill 42 between the Municipality of Baie James and the Crees, I can play a big role when it comes to building strong relationships.

I was born in Matagami and so I know people there. I have also lived in the Cree communities and so I know the area. I think a strong team gets more done.

I believe that with my strong economic background I can help develop a strategy where win/win formula can be achieved where the MBJ and the Crees can all benefit.

Give me an example of an issue you have challenged and how you championed it?

RK: I think being one of the youngest founding members of the Cree Nation Youth Council and building the economic arm from scratch is an area that I really feel I championed.

Building a voice for the youth is something that has seen us develop many of our greatest leaders of today. To name a few: Romeo Saganash, Matthew Mukash, Paul Gull, Danny Tomatuk, John Longchap, Lisa Petagumskum, Ashley Iserhoff, John Matoush and so many more.

So many have come from this and there will be so many more to come from this structure.

What can you do at the helm of the Cree Nation that currently isn’t being done?

RK: I would really like to see improved communication with the people, better coordination with the people and positive change through the people. This is the way I see it. My goal would be to work with the people to unite the region and collectively capitalize on all of the development going on in the Cree world.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

RK: Let’s talk, more action!