It hasn’t been an easy ride for Janie Pachano, says one of her friends and coworkers.

“It’s been a struggle. But we’re not going to quit. We understand too much,” says Dianne Reid, who was recently appointed president of the James Bay Cree Cultural Education Centre.

“We have to go forward with the positive and the Elders are the ones who have given us the ability to go that way,” she said.

Reid said Cree bureaucrats and politicians have meddled in the affairs of the Cultural Education Centre to such an extent that the Centre couldn’t do its job.

She said Pachano, who is the Centre’s director, and herself wanted to run things in a traditional way, in accordance with the teachings of the Cree Elders.

But the bureaucrats at the Cree Regional Authority, which provides the Centre with half its funding, were always interfering, she said.

“The Elders wanted culture separate from the CRA. Until that happens, nothing would happen within cultural development because there was too much control from within the organization,” she said.

“I can explain things to the bureaucrats ’till I’m blue in the face and they still won’t understand. The Elders’ approach of doing things is so different than the bureaucrats. Because of that, it has been very difficult for me and Janie to deal with the bureaucrats and politicians.”

Why did the CRA meddle in the Centre’s affairs? Is the CRA really against the “traditional” approach? Or was it just keeping an eye on how Cree money was being spent by a public entity? Or was it a bit of both?

Reid refused to get into the details. “I figure what’s done is done. If I look at things from a traditional point of view, I’m going to look forward, not to the past,” she said.

“You never go back to what has happened.”

By last December, the bickering between the Centre and the CRA got so bad that something had to be done. The Council Board, which is the ruling body of the CRA, agreed to allow the Centre to become an independent entity.

Now, the Centre is no longer accountable to the chiefs and Grand Chief, as before. It answers only to its members.

The way it works is any Cree over 18 can become a member and can then vote for the Centre’s board of directors. The Centre has 40 members. But according to one source, there have only been two meetings of all the members in the last six years.

With the Centre now “independent,” will this answer the concerns of Crees about keeping their culture and language strong?

According to Chief Abel Bosum of Ouje-Bougoumou, the main problem is that the cultural efforts of the Cree Nation are too “fragmented.”

“Perhaps out of that comes the internal bickering,” he said.

“The Cultural Education Centre is doing something, the Cree School Board is doing other things, the CRA has their department. This fragmentation I think has caused problems. Nobody is really getting the best of the whole thing.”

Bosum said it shows the importance of finally establishing the Cree Cultural Institute and Museum in Ouje-Bougoumou, where all cultural entities can be brought together “under one roof.”

“People are talking, they don’t have the answers. When it’s under one roof, it’ll be much more visible and much closer to the Crees.”