Twenty-five years after the signing of the James Bay Agreement a group of fifty artists and artisans (craft producers) from the nine communities of Eeyou Istchee met for the first time in an Assembly, from November 21-23, to display their work and discuss their common preoccupations. Following the three-day event, an Association was born and a founding group of twenty members was set up to address the issues of Eeyou artists and artisans. Section 28.7 of the James Bay Agreement, which had never been implemented, says that it will support a Cree Native Arts and Crafts program. It says that, in addition to a Cree Native Arts and Crafts association, they would develop Cree Native Arts and Crafts and create a local Arts and Crafts Committee in each Cree community. The assembly agreed on the viability of setting up a structure to accommodate the application of a Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association that would in the future establish a Central Marketing Service, which would help individuals and the communities in marketing and related services. It would also make available materials or equipment that may be required to create native arts and objects. All three signatories, Canada, Quebec and the Grand Council agreed to sit down and assist the Association once it is created in its objectives and operation at the signing of the JBNQA.

All of the Chiefs in the last council Board Meeting recognized the Association and gave it their support.

Under the direction of the CRA this event was organized following a survey done in the Eeyou Istchee amongst 400 artists and artisans. This assembly had, as a first objective, to create a feeling of solidarity amongst artists and artisans, to encourage exchange between the different disciplines, and to discuss the feasibility of an association. This was achieved in more than one-way and left artists and artisans excited about the possibilities. Being artists who came together, some for the first time, they did more than just talk; they created a work of art together as one. It will not be sold, but kept as a part of Cree history in the making.

Amongst the group present a group of 20 members were decided upon as a founding group. To ensure full representation of all sectors, 1 active artisan from each community was appointed, 2 seats are reserved for representatives of the performing arts, 4 seats were appointed for representation from the Cree artistic community and 4 seats for representatives from the youth artists and or artisans.

The founding members are:

1) from the Artistic Community: Sheila Orr, Minnie Matoush, Glenna Matoush, Morley Stewart and Jimmy Otter,

2) Community reps: Mistissini- William Shecapio, Whapmagoostui- Jimmy George, Chisasibi- Peter Crow, Wemindji- Josephine Atsynia, Eastmain-(Unnamed), Waskaganish- Susan Moses, Senneterre- Dennis Saganash, Waswanipi- Charlotte Dixon, Ouje-Bougoumou- Caroline Mianscum, Nemaska- (unnamed)

3) Performing Arts- (Unnamed (2) and Youth Reps are Marco Voyageur, Teddy Otter, Kevin Mianscum and Natazia Mukash.

The assembly produced two statements to present to the Eeyou Leadership and these will constitute the working objectives of the Association to be incorporated in the near future

Artists and Craftsmen Statement

We as visual artists and craftsmen of Eeyou Istchee, having met in an assembly for the first time in Chisasibi, wish to:

1. Be recognized by our own communities as vital members who hold a special place in the transmission of self-expression through cultural means.

2. Control an organization, which will assist artists and craftsmen in their quest for financial, promotional, technical and/or training support.

3. Inform communities of creative achievements and opportunities through newsletters published by seasons.

4. Provide access to existing resources or new ones, which will become available.

5. Design web pages to promote our arts and crafts to a larger audience.

6. Document and record Cree artists and craftsmen work.

7. Conduct educational workshops on skill improvement and marketing.

8. Organize and entertain communication with other aboriginal artists in the Americas (Native Land)

9. Organize and participate in local, regional, national and international exhibitions.

10. Ensure an annual gathering or assembly of artists and craftsmen to exchange on recent productions and encourage surfacing talent.

11. Create an annual group show for artists in and out of Eeyou Istchee.

12. Establish a community-based link.

13. Contact international parties interested in hosting Cree cultural and artistic events.

14. Hire professional curators when needed for group exhibition; ensuring some harmony in the exhibition and proper promotion of the show.

15. Define arts and crafts by field: visual and performing arts i.e. theatre, music (traditional and contemporary), film, photography, writers, storytellers, dance (traditional and con temporary) identify and document artists and artisans (craft producers).

16. Report to the communities through the Nation and other native media channels.

17. Convey the results of this meeting to members present and absent.

19. Receive training on the economic and marketing aspects of our work.

20. Convince the Cree School Board of the importance of art to be taught in school and include our art in the history curriculum. We also feel that arts and crafts could receive special attention on the economics curriculum and in the career choice opportunities.

21. Retain full control over our own path.

22. Conserve, protect, and promote Quebec James Bay Cree arts and crafts.

Since youth participation was significant at this conference, and represents a significant portion of upcoming talent, and is instrumental in the development and the representation of the arts, they have issued an additional statement

Youth Artists and Craftsmen

1. We are Young artists and craft producers of Eeyou Istchee.

2. We see ourselves as role models for the youth who are interested in creative development.

3. We want to carry on traditional skills.

4. We want to encourage artistic expression amongst our fellow youth, and universal communication through artistic expression.

5. We want access to training from our expert elders and other artistic experts.

6. We are hoping to be recognized by the Cree leadership and be given equal opportunities in the allocation of funding towards youth development such as sports and recreation.

The assembly has decided that they wish to inform all interested Cree about this new organization. They’ll also be looking at the 400 questionnaires to see what Cree artists and artisans see as important, and look for experts to train people and ways to help them. In the future we can expect to see more Crees on the Board of Directors as well as having the Association incorporated. Training programs are being planned for the summer. Finally, the Association will prepare an operating budget and begin negotiations to get funding and set up the organization to operate on a daily basis.

For any information concerning the newly formed Association you can get in touch with Ann Marie Awashish in Mistissini at 418-923 3285.