The first week of December saw the 10th edition of Business Exchange Day return to Val-d’Or. The event, organized by the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance in collaboration with ComaxAT/ComaxNord, brought together over 165 companies and organizations, including representatives from every one of the nations of Eeyou Istchee as well as all regional municipalities of Abitibi-Témiscamingue and James Bay.

The name of the game, as always, was making business happen, and to that end the event organized over 800 “matchmaking” appointments (known as B2B, or Business-to-Business, meetings). The B2B meet-ups allowed businesspeople and officials from different companies, organizations and governments around the North to explore possibilities for working together to mutual advantage.

Representing more than 35 communities, 350 businesspeople set about to make new acquaintances and explore possibilities for business growth in Cree communities as well as other communities of the region.

In his opening address, former Grand Chief Ted Moses said, “The business matchmaking meetings position this event as an economic development lever for companies and organizations to establish strategic partnerships, [as well as] commercial, financial and technological alliances with the Cree communities.”

Noting that surveys had shown over the years that many businesspeople found Business Exchange Day the most efficient way of doing business with the Crees of Eeyou Istchee, Moses added that 75% of the companies present from the James Bay and Abitibi-Témiscamingue regions said they had made new business contacts with Cree representatives at previous Exchange Days. Likewise, 87% of the Cree organizations present said that previous Exchange Days had provided them with new contacts both with other Cree representatives and with organizations from outside of Eeyou Istchee.

Val-d’Or Mayor Fernand Trahan, in his address to the conference, underlined the centrality of the relationship with communities of the North to Val-d’Or’s economic health.

“More than 23% of Val-d’Or’s economy comes from northern Quebec, Nunavik and Nunavut,” said Trahan, noting for example Val-d’Or’s Northern Mining Transit Centre, which organizes transport and logistics for mining companies working in the North and has transported over 1,000 workers to northern mining camps.

Later in the day, Moses spoke at length about the importance of partnership in the world of Cree business. As representatives of the Grand Council often do, Moses underlined that any belief that the Crees are opposed to development is mistaken. Echoing the words of Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff on numerous occasions, Moses said, “Let me be clear, the Crees are open for business, provided that it respects our rights and the environment and produces real benefits for our people. We are willing partners.”

In his speech, however, Moses laid out the important specifics of what partnership requires. Beginning with the assertion that the 400,000 square kilometres of Eeyou Istchee are “fully occupied, used and managed by the Crees,” he went on to explain that, “Cree expectations with respect to Northern Development [are…] wealth creation, through direct investments, contracts and employment; we are looking to accelerate job creation for the Crees through the development of a Cree technical, professional and managerial workforce and [development in the region] must provide a fair share of well-paid jobs to the Cree.”

For these reasons, Moses spoke about the business relationships between Crees and those outside the Eeyou Istchee specifically as “partnerships”.

“Partnership is a form of agreement,” he underlined. “Two parties come to work together to create something and they most often realize that, together, they are stronger. Rights are the backdrop to partnership as in situations of rapid culture change each party brings something to the table in forming a partnership.

“To be clear,” Moses continued, “our position is that no mining developments may occur in Eeyou Istchee unless they are socially acceptable to the Cree communities, as demonstrated by the conclusion of agreements with our communities. The Cree must be active partners, not just passive bystanders, in these developments. Development of the North must benefit the North and its inhabitants, Crees and Jamésiens.”

To prove that these safeguards have not hurt the thriving mining industry in Eeyou Istchee, Moses went on to discuss six examples of recent mining partnerships, including Goldcorp’s Eleonore gold project. The agreement that brought about the Eleonore project was, he said, “a vivid example of an arrangement whereby, with the participation of the Cree, mining development can take place and prosper in Eeyou Istchee in a spirit of genuine partnership.  This agreement sets the new standard for mining proponents seeking to operate in Eeyou Istchee.”

But there was more than mining being discussed at Business Exchange Day. The same week as Canadian national news was lit up with discussion of the $15-billion takeover of Canadian oil company Nexen by Chinese state-owned company, Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, Whapmagoostui chose the Exchange Day to announce a Joint Venture Agreement with Chinese state-owned company Guodian United Power to replace the Whapmagoostui/Kuujjuarapik diesel Hydro-Québec power plant with a hybrid-energy system.

Key players from Whapmagoostui’s leadership first encountered representatives from Guodian United Power at the Quebec Wind Energy Conference in Gaspésie, which led to the opening of discussions between the two groups.

Following the news last year that Hydro-Québec planned to replace the plant’s diesel generators, Whapmagoostui formed Nimschu-Iskudow Inc. (a 100% Cree-owned subsidiary) to assemble a proposal to develop renewable technology, drawing on technology and expertise from both Quebec and China. The project, developed by a team of engineers and other experts drawn both from Guodian and other Quebec companies, will develop a replacement energy system for Whapmagoostui/Kuujjuarapik powered by wind, biomass and other resources, one of which will continue to be diesel fuel. However, the project will reduce the plant’s annual diesel consumption by 3-million litres, or 80%, offering in its place 4.5 MW in wind energy and 1 MW in biomass per year.

“The current strategy involves doing away with diesel power sources in the North and moving towards a hybrid energy system. The Grand Council of the Crees has given us their support and we are currently discussing the participation of the Inuit of Kuujjuarapik in collaboration with the intent to share this technology with other isolated First Nation communities in Quebec and beyond,” said Whapmagoostui Chief Stanley George.

There has also been interest from Innu nations in participating in the project, as their territory demands 300 MW of diesel power.

Whapmagoostui will own the project, which is expected to create employment for 280 people during construction, and 30 permanent jobs on completion. The projected cost for the undertaking is $60 million.

Former Grand Chief Matthew Mukash is now Nimschu-Iskudow’s president, and went to China in October to sign the agreement. In the press release announcing the joint venture, Mukash said, “With this initiative, the Cree community has taken a major step forward in bringing more clean energy to the North. We have also made history by entering into a partnership with a Chinese state-owned company such as Guodian United Power.”

In all, the 10th Business Exchange Day showcased Eeyou Istchee as a hotbed of economic activity and development, which its organizers hoped it would help multiply through the possibility of many new partnerships.