The Grand Council of the Crees is currently reviewing a very important new project that may affect you and your loved ones (see the Nation’s full coverage of the story in “Victims of crime to receive new services” located at the top of the main page).

The Crime Victims Assistance Centre or CAVAC, was created by the Quebec government in 1988 to provide free assistance to victims of all crimes, no matter their age or sex.

Services include providing victims, their families or witnesses to a crime with various forms of support. Whether it is accompaniment to a court appearance or deciphering complicated court documents into plain English – or Cree as the case may be – CAVAC is there for many facets of moral and technical help.

They also offer referral services to mental health professionals, inform victims of their rights and keep them updated on their particular court case.

It has been a long time coming. Crime rates in Eeyou Istchee – most notably in the larger communities like Chisasibi and Mistissini – are rising or staying the same, but they’re not getting better. And those are only the reported cases.

The announcement of the CAVAC program comes on the heels of a Nation story a few issues ago on sexual assault in Eeyou Istchee which focused on Mistissini.

Police are at their wits end when dealing with light sentences handed down to criminals. Mistissini’s Police Director Calvin Blacksmith was so upset he even ran for council and was voted in. He wants to help bring big changes to the community and hopes he can serve the community better in his new position than in his old one.

As we have said in the past, it is not enough to have a psychologist visit a community once a month. There needs to be a support system in place so when the CAVAC counselors make a recommendation for treatment, the victim does not have to wait a month or more to access sorely needed services.

The CAVAC program is a step in the right direction and we can only hope the Grand Council approves it so it can commence this fall.

“It’s about empowering the victim in the sense of knowing their rights and helping them through the judicial and healing process,” said Don Nicholls, political attaché for the Grand Council. “It’s about getting them in contact with whatever facilities are available within the community or Cree Nation.”

That is precisely why the GCC cannot let this slip through the cracks. And it is also why the Cree Health Board has to work harder to bring more qualified health professionals to Eeyou Istchee.

The Paix des Braves Agreement, signed by the GCC and Quebec in 2002, was supposed to help build new infrastructure and provide new monies to health and education for the nine Cree communities. Is mental health not a priority in Eeyou Istchee? If so, where are the professionals to back it up? Why is the money allocated to the Cree Health Board not being spent on what should be their number-one priority, the mental well being and the future of the Cree Nation?

Without proper support for this program, suicide rates will continue to climb in each community. Teenagers will lose hope and crime rates will sky rocket and the criminals will not be the only ones to blame.

When a teenager is sexually assaulted, should they have to wait months to begin the healing process?