Ouje-Bougoumou has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. The model community on the shores of Lac Opemisca marked the occasion with a week-long series of events and festivities that ran from Jan. 20-27.
Though not even a teenager yet, Ouje-Bougoumou has already established an impressive list of achievements during its brief lifetime. In 1995, as the United Nations celebrated its 50th anniversary, O-J was honoured by the U.N. with one of the We The Peoples: 50 Communities Awards. The award was given to O-J in the category of Human Settlements for efforts in the construction of a new village. Then-chief Abel Bosum traveled to New York to receive the honour.
Ouje-Bougoumou also received the Habitat II: Best Practices Award, presented by the Together Foundation and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS). First presented at the United Nations Habitat II City Summit in 1996, the successful entries “play an important role in identifying ways in which shared solutions can address issues such as poverty, access to land and clean water, population, shelter, and transportation.”
Among other accolades it has received over the years, O-J was also invited to have an exhibit at the world’s fair Expo 2000, in Hannover, Germany. The International Advisory Board to Expo 2000 thought that O-J best exemplified the objectives of the fair by managing a delicate balance of mankind, nature and technology.
And so it is that the youngest of the Cree communities has so much to celebrate in so short a period of time. But not all of the proud residents of O-J were in a party mood. Environmental officer Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith finds little to laugh at in his home community these days. “I didn’t attend any of this,” Shecapio-Blacksmith said in reference to the birthday celebrations. “It’s all a political game. They are manipulating the people of Ouje-Bougoumou.”
Shecapio-Blacksmith has good reason to feel the way he does. He’s been trying in vain to get the ball rolling on the toxic crisis that threatens his community. Since the story came out last October, little has been done in the way of action, though much has been promised. The dedicated environmental officer has stuck to his guns, even though he’s been getting little or no support from the Cree leadership.
Feeling like a marked man these days for trying to do what he thinks is right, Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith can’t help but feel dismay at seeing nobody show up in town to get to work on a toxic clean-up that could save lives, but everyone showing up when there’s an opportunity to make feel-good speeches.