With the signing of the Paix des Braves in 2002 came the go-ahead for the huge hydro-electric project near Eastmain, EM-1. There are over $735 million in contracts in total for the construction of EM-1, with $300 million set aside exclusively for Cree enterprises. The camp that will eventually house 2,400 people opened at the same time as the construction began last year. Cree Counselor Johnny Saganash has been there since the beginning. He has worked for Hydro Quebec as an electro-mechanic for 11 years. He has also been a game warden for SEPAC, a chief of police in Waswanipi, a Lineman with sub-contractors of Hydro Quebec and a union director for Hydro Quebec. The Crees approached him with this position and he was very happy to take it on. His job is to help the Cree get involved in the project, to help get contracts awarded to the Crees under the Cree Consortium, and to help them obtain their CCQ cards.
Saganash also gathers the names of those who are willing to work and tries to have companies hire them. Within the camp he also advises on anything that has to do with the Crees. He shared some of his observances and thoughts on the project with the Nation.
“Some of the successes include Cree Construction doing their best to hire Crees. As of today we’re at 22 per cent of Cree manpower because of the winter freeze up, they are laying off people. Starting in spring 2004, the general labourers will be needed. The service road will need to be resurfaced and the south dykes will need a lot of workers”.
“We are also starting to have non-Native companies hiring Natives, slowly but surely. One of the big issues is taxation. If they work for a non-native company, they will be taxed and people don’t want to do that. So we are trying to figure out ways to get more Cree involved. ”
“We also have two Cree carpenters from Chisasibi that were hired to do their stages (apprenticeships) by CEGERCO, who have a lot of contracts at EM I.”
“The overall turnaround rate is between 25-30 percent, same for native and non-natives…The hardest part is telling people that they have to be independent and responsible for their acts especially in regards to alcohol. I am trying to find a way to get a social worker to look at how we can help people help themselves with the alcohol problem. If we keep the camp dry, there will be bootlegging.”
“We are also trying to get the Cree electric and mechanical jobs but it needs a lot of training, which is sometimes not easy. It can take 2-3 years to do the training. “
“The French language is an obstacle. The Cree can work in management if they can understand and communicate in French. There are a lot of openings. The person has to sacrifice more for the training to get the higher jobs.”
“On an average day people get up at 5 am, depending on their shifts, and start at 7am. They come back at 5:30 pm and the cafeteria is open until 7 pm. If they miss dinner, there is a restaurant. Most of them go to bed around 9 or 10pm. It’s a 60-hour week, with Sundays off, but most people work that day too. The shifts are either 35 days in and 8 days off for janitor and noncontract services or 54 days in and 10 days off for construction workers. I tip my hat to the ones who really want to work.
They are showing up on time everyday and doing their jobs.”
Saganash would like to thank all the Native companies that have hired the Cree and the non-Native companies for their wilingness to hire Crees. He encourages people to pursue training to get the better jobs and would like to remind people that one incident gives all the Cree a bad name.