It’s another fiscal year and another $70 million is being pumped into the Cree economy through the Paix des braves Agreement. Even though there are a lot of happy faces in Eeyou Istchee, some have those smiles upside down.
Part of the reason is that $2 million has been cut from the amount budgeted for the Cree Regional Authority (CRA). Last year, the CRA received $10 million; this year, $8 million. This money is to cover Quebec government obligations now administered by the CRA. Most of the funds are redistributed to such organizations as the Cree Trappers Association, JBCCS, Youth Council, Elders Council, Wasasibi Corporation, Cree Outfitting and Tourism, Cree Development Corporation fund and others.
The Cree Trappers Association (CTA) is another organization not smiling as much as they would wish. The CTA received $2 million, the same amount as last year. But the CTA’s Thomas Coon told the Nation that amount is still far below what the organization needs and that they expect to have to tighten their belts once again.
“With the first $70 million last year we asked for a little over $6 million,” Coon explained. “This year we asked for a little over $7 million because the Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) funding, which used to solely come from Quebec, terminates this year. With the M.O.U. monies we used to do the cabin program and buy bush radios with that. We looked at some capital expenses and office facilities. That was all under the MOU funds. That’s why we needed to increase to $6-7 million under the second $70 million request. Cutting $2 million is not good news at all.”
The CTA will be looking very carefully at all Cree Agreements and funding sources in order to be less dependent on the Paix des braves funding.
“This is so we don’t rely on the $70 million alone. I had hoped that the CTA would have had a brighter light at the end of the tunnel but instead we found a small candle.”
Another disappointed organization is the Elders Council. “I don’t know how many times in the past we asked for money so we can help and give the Youth direction,” said Robbie Matthews Sr.
He sees the youth as wanting to find themselves through Cree culture and that it is the responsibility of the Elders to help make this happen. He said the youth have many problems in the daily life of the communities but, “when they go out on the land they find that they’re more at peace. They’re happy there and that’s where they can find spiritual healing. They want to be able to go on the canoe excursions every summer. That’s where they’ll find what they’re searching for. That’s why we need more money, it’s for these kinds of things.”
Matthews says it cost $45,000 for one meeting alone between the Elders and the youth. Matthews says the budget for the Youth and Elders Councils should be around $400,000 each from the fund. The Youth Council and the Elders Council will each receive $100,000 for this with no changes from last year.
Then, of course, there is the Cree Development Corporation. It was one of the selling points of the Paix des braves agreement. It was referred to as the new economic engine of the Cree Nation. It would be something that would replace the now defunct SODAB. It gets a yearly sum of $350,000 a year from agreement monies. That piddling amount won’t even gas up the “economic engine of the Cree Nation,” much less get the motor running.
In all the years since the agreement was signed, no loans have been made to any Cree business, organization, person or persons wanting to start up a business. Apparently no one has even been named to head up the CDC.
To make matters worse, most of the organizations who received money aren’t really sure of the protocol needed in order to make a request to access funding from the Paix des braves Agreement. They know though they have to submit proposals and budgets. One of them commented that the chiefs and the communities don’t have to submit anything. An insider at the Grand Council said some communities were good in submitting reports while others merely sent in their annual report. It leaves the much-talked about “accountability to the people” a little tattered, according to some.
Most of the people interviewed for this story would not go on record or wished to remain anonymous. As one person put it, “the chiefs and communities control 18 out of 20 seats in the Grand Council and they are the ones to decide how much money any of us get. I’m not pissing them off.”