While the world might be holding it’s collective breath (as I write this) to find out who the next leader of the United States might be, this kind of indecision does not plague the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO). We at the Nation know who the next President is and it’s none other than Mr. Alfred Loon of Mistissini.

CANDO was established ten years ago by economic development officers (EDOs) from across Canada to act as a support system to provide the officers with the training, education, and networking opportunities necessary to better serve their communities and organizations. Among its many achievements, such as the certified training program that has been coordinated with a number of universities and colleges across Canada, the organization maintains a resource library and a web site, as well as publishing the award winning Journal of Aboriginal Economic Development.

Mr. Loon spoke with the Nation last week at the Grand Council office in Montreal.

Nation: Congratulations President Loon. Can you tell us a bit about CANDO and its mission?

Alfred Loon: We’re an aboriginal controlled, community-based, membership-driven organization. Our vision and mission is o build the capacity to strengthen aboriginal economies across Canada, we were very instrumental in setting up a certified training program for aboriginal (EDOs) across Canada.

Nation: How many council members are there?

There are eleven directors set up nationally across Canada, with each director representing a different region. We’re all volunteers and all elected regionally. Our members sit on different committees, both standing and ad-hoc.

Nation: What experience do you bring with you to this new posting?

I’ve been working in economic development since 1984 at the local level. I’m from Mistissini and that’s where it all started.

Nation: Based on your experience, what do you see as the next step for CANDO?

We have a good work plan in place. I really don’t want to deviate from that plan. I’m pretty satisfied with the way (CANDO) is set up. There are still more things that we can do, for example, we can focus on regional workshops for the (EDOs) in different areas of economic development, like entrepreneurship development. Also, what I want to see is the status of the economic development officer raised, and have that as a career choice for the youth.

Nation: So you see EDO as a career choice worth exploring?

It’s one of the areas where people can really make a difference. When you talk about economic development you don’t just talk about the business aspect of it, you have to take other areas into account like the social aspect, the cultural aspect, and the political aspect. It’s all a part of what I call community economic development. It’s more than just the business side of it, we have to focus on the social economy aspect of what is community economic development.

Nation: Are there things in CANDO that you feel need to be changed?

The organization is still going through growing pains and we still have to re-focus on where we’re heading. In other words, because we’ve been very visible at the national level for the last couple of years there’s alot of other organizations that want to partner with CANDO in different areas, like conferences and studies. That’s something we have to talk about as a group. I always take into consideration if it will benefit the member who is the economic development officer located in a particular community, it could be northern Quebec, northern Saskatchewan, or in Nunavut, or the Atlantic region.

Nation: What are the strengths you see in CANDO?

I think the board itself is made of highly dynamic people and we have different ideas coming to the table. We’re the only national economic development organization and we really want to strengthen ties with the local EDO. We want to have a very close link with the officers and we don’t want to be just another service delivery organization – I think there’s too many of those.

Nation: So you want to make a difference?

I want to make a difference and I believe that CANDO can make a difference. I have a dynamic group of people with good ideas and we’ll work as a team.

Nation: What new responsibilities will you have as President? How does this change things for you?

Well…I guess I’ll always be the same person I have always been. Being the President is, according to the by-laws, the President is the CEO, so I’m keeping in close contact with the office of CANDO, located in Edmonton. We have an executive director and this person handles the daily operations and we communicate either by telephone or email so I’m in close contact with the office. You have to be committed and I think that’s one reason why I accepted to be President of CANDO, because I can commit myself to be part of the group.

Nation: How does one get appointed as President?

We elect the President on a yearly basis and you hold the position for one year. The past President becomes an advisor -we did that for continuity. The ex-President stays on the board, also on the executive committee. If I get voted out after a year I would stay on as past President. You can be voted back in, on average maybe a President stays in for three or four years. It all depends on your commitment.

Nation: I hear you had a special guest speaker at this year’s conference.

Matthew Coon Come was our keynote speaker at the President’s dinner. The board really wanted him to speak, so they gave me the task of securing him to deliver a speech – I succeeded in doing that. I think my contacts with Matthew might have helped out in being elected President.

Nation: So, Mistissini is now the hotbed of aboriginal politics?

(laughing) I guess you could say that.

Nation: Can you tell me about the Cree skills training program that you helped launch?

How it all started was, a couple of years ago when I was at Concordia (University) I developed a friendship with one of the professors who became the Dean of the faculty of commerce. Before he got appointed he mentioned he wanted to develop a working relationship with our communities. With her assistance we developed a training proposal, a training plan for people that were directors of operations, treasurers, and economic development officers. This was only in the Cree communities. Last year we started with the administrative assistants, it’s a customized course and the way it was done is they interviewed each director of operations and they expressed what their training needs were, like financial accounting, project management, etc. We also recognized that there were alot of people working under these directors of operations and some of them could take similar courses and that’s how it started. We tried to build their capacity so they could work more efficiently and they could have a better understanding of their work. It’s a customized, community-based method of training. That sort of coincides with the CANDO vision.

Nation: When was this program initiated?

It’s been going on for about four years. I think everybody that went through this program is a success story, the way I see it. It really helped the participants and gave them a sense of confidence. The program is still in place and we’re working on another round of training.

Nation: Any suggestions for Nation readers that might want to become development officers or enter into the training programs?

To the youth I would say that working in economic development is a good career choice. It’s very diverse and you get a chance to work with different people with different ideas. That’s one of the areas that I see as instrumental in the Cree world, is to have a good grasp of what economic development is all about. You might have perfect strategic plans, but if you don’t have the appropriate skills and human resources – all your plans will be meaningless. So, in economic development the human resource aspect is an important factor. I want CANDO to make a difference and be effective in the economic development scheme.

**CANDO can be reached by phone at: (780) 990-0303 and by email at: cando@edo.ca

The Website address is: www.edo.ca