Crees are reacting with amazement and bewilderment to a recent “peace offer” from the Midget AA Hockey League of Abitibi-Témiscamingue.

Until now, the Midget AA league has stubbornly refused to allow a Cree Nation team to participate in the league’s games.

But pressure from minor-hockey officials and the mayors of several non-Native towns forced the league to change its mind in mid-August—sort of.

The league is now willing to make a compromise. Crees will still not be able to join the league, but they will be allowed to play a number of games against the teams in the league during the upcoming season.

These games will be considered exhibition or practice games and do not count in the overall league standings. The number of games will be about half the number which teams in the league will play.

Crees were also asked to guarantee there would be no “disgraceful events” during the games. They would still have to pay a fee to play those games and also cough up for the travel of non-Native teams playing in the Cree communities. Non-Natives are to be housed in Chibougamau at Cree cost, not in the Cree communities.

“That’s not good enough for us,” said Norman Gull of the Cree Regional Authority, who said the offer leaves Crees as second-class citizens.

“We won’t do anything to hurt the kids’ chances of playing hockey, but it’s hard to accept when you know that our kids can play with the best of hem,” he said.

“We still have problems with the offer. I think it needs more than just fine-tuning.”

Crees are now exploring a discrimination law suit or a court injunction against the league.

They have also filed a complaint with the Fédération Québécoise de Hockey sur Glace accusing the league and the Chibougamau Ambassadeurs Midget AA team of discrimination and of violating the FQHG’s rules, which include the principles in the Charter of Rights.

The league and Ambassadeurs are both members of the FQHG and can be expelled for violating the federation’s regulations.

The complaint singles out the Ambassadeurs because of alleged racist statements made by members of the club.

Jean-Yves Bossé, president of the Abitibi chapter of the FQHG, called the league’s offer “a little funny.”
“I’m really disappointed—not a little, but a lot. I’m disappointed because we have people in Abitibi-Témiscamingue who will not be able to play hockey in the Abitibi league. Crees are part of Abitibi.”

Bossé said the teams in the league are just afraid of losing to a Cree team: “That’s for sure.”
He described with awe a hockey team from Chisasibi he once saw play in Lebel-sur-Quévillon.

“They were VE-RY good. It was beautiful to watch.”

League officials couldn’t be reached for comment.