The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) celebrated its 30th anniversary with a ceremony in Eastmain August 8.
The anniversary was organized to honour the founding members of the Grand Council and to celebrate 30 years of political unity for the Crees of James Bay. It’s a major accomplishment. Not many native groups across Canada have been united that long. Many Crees in their mid-30s don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a Grand Council.
But it shouldn’t be taken for granted: people willed our political representation to exist. People formed the Grand Council because they knew what it was like when the federal and provincial governments made all our decisions on our behalf.
During the ceremony, Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses summarized the achievements of the Grand Council. He recalled the conditions before the Grand Council existed, remembering how Crees were run by the federal government and its Indian Agents. Moses observed that both the Cree School Board and the Cree Health Board now exist because of the Grand Council’s work, political leadership and the wisdom of the founding members.
Before 1972, Moses recalled, the Cree relied on the Indians of Quebec Association to represent our interests. But, said Moses, the Indians of Quebec Association was more interested in using the Crees as leverage to resolve their issues they had with the federal and provincial governments. That’s why the Crees decided to form their own organization.
The masters of ceremonies were Kenneth Gilpin, the coordinator for Eastmain’s traditional pursuits and the President of Air Creebec, Albert W.Diamond. The ceremony began with a feast of goose, beaver, bear and fish. Chief Edward Gilpin invited an Elder and a young woman to present traditional shawls to the spouses of the founding members. There was also the unveiling of a monument to signify the 30th anniversary and the birthplace of the Grand Council of the Crees.
The evening featured an exhibition of fireworks and a dance that continued long past midnight.
Bill Namagoose, the Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees said: “I’m very proud that the Grand Council of the Crees survived all this time. It’s a significant milestone that they achieved so much for the Crees. In the Grand Council of the Crees we are a rights-based organization. It’s not an administrative unit, it’s a rights-based unit, that’s where it should be all the time.”