Since its creation three years ago, the Cree Entrepreneur Assistance Fund (CEAF) has fully or partially funded over 34 Cree business projects in the James Bay area. Founded by the Department of Sustainable and Economic Development (DESD) under the supervision of the Cree Regional Authority, CEAF’s mission is to assist Cree entrepreneurial projects to empower and reinforce self-suffi- cient, sustainable economic growth in Cree communities. Grants from the CEAF are non-repayable, and are intended to serve as seed money to help Cree entrepreneurs cover vari- ous business-related expenses.
“We gear the fund mainly towards private individuals who want to start a private enterprise in their community,” said CEAF direc- tor Alfred Loon. “You have to be a Cree beneficiary under the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement. The band-owned projects and com- munity businesses, or the Cree Cultural Group are not eligible for this program.”
The program receives its funding from the federal government in accordance with section 28 of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).
CEAF grants can make a signifi- cant difference to new entrepre- neurs struggling with the financial strain of starting a small business in a remote, sparsely populated region. Start-up expenses including new building supplies, equipment and construction costs, as well as expan- sion projects and modernization ini- tiatives for established businesses, are all viable expenditures for CEAF grant spending. Depending on the
cost/benefit analysis of the proposed project, entrepreneurs with successful applications could receive grants to $50,000. The grants are a one- time source of funding, however, and recipients are obligated to use the money according to their pre- approved business plan.
Anthony and Elaine MacLeod used money from a CEAF grant to help with start-up costs for the A&E Services Tim Hortons in Mistissini, which they own and operate.
“There are ups and downs in starting a business,” said Anthony
MacLeod. “Work hard! Don’t give up! That’s how it is with us, and that’s how we’ve become successful.”
Their restaurant now provides regular employment for 40 Mistissini residents.
Mistissini entrepreneur Michel Shecapio was awarded a grant from CEAF to help pay for GPS equip- ment during the start-up phase of his business, M.Y. Surveying. His company is now the only Cree sur- veying service provider in the region, and offers seasonal employ- ment opportunities.
“Right now I have 12 surveyors working for me, last summer I had 20,” said Shecapio
An internal CEAF project-sta- tus report to the Cree Nation Government, dated July 24, 2014, reported that Mistissini received the most business grants with a total of 11. The second-highest number, seven, went to Chisasibi. The second-lowest number of business grants was a four-way tie, with Oujé-Bougoumou, Nemaska, Wemindji and Eastmain each receiving two. Whapmagoostui received only one business grant.
Of the 34 funding projects list- ed in the CEAF report, all of them have either been completed, or are progressing according to plan. The only project in the report list- ed as a “Non-Success” was CBBK’s Convenience in Whapmagoostui. The grant recipient for the project,
Brian Wynne, said that work had been temporarily delayed by an unexpected illness, and his busi- ness plan has changed from open- ing a convenience store to opening a canteen, but he has no plans to quit.
“They almost diagnosed me with cancer,” said Wynne. “The doctors said I’m in recovery now and have one more hospital appointment on December 4. If all goes well the project is going to move forward, and hopefully we can open the store sometime in December.”
The Quebec government allot- ted an initial $2.5 million for the program at the outset, and Loon said the province is committed to ensuring CEAF remains well fund- ed. To date, CEAF has handed out more than $1.2 million in grants to Cree-owned businesses, which have created almost 150 new jobs with a projected total of 182 to be created once all the enterprises are fully operational.
James Bay residents are encouraged to independently develop business plans, and approach the economic develop- ment officer (EDO) responsible for their region. The EDO will assess the goals and capabilities of the applicant, then evaluate their busi- ness plan and assist with any neces- sary changes to make the plan fit CEAF eligibility criteria. Those who are ready to apply immediate- ly can do so directly online at: www.gcc.ca.
For more information about the CEAF including eligibility criteria and a full list of conditions, see the Grand Council of the Crees website at: www.gcc.ca.