Born out of necessity and refined over time, the arts and crafts of the Crees have played a significant role in the survival of the people throughout their history. What kind of a role they might play in the future is a whole other story that depends on what happens now.
Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association (CNACA) held its regional consultation gathering in Val-d’Or on March 11-12 not just to touch base with its members but also to establish its next stepping stones.
Back in 1978, litigation was written into the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement for the creation of a Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association to promote and preserve those elements of culture. However, the results were not immediate because from 1982 to 2001 the feasibility was studied and an association was finally created in 2004.
Once CNACA was incorporated and core funding was made available, the association began to move forward by holding meetings, providing workshops and coordinating raw materials.
At the same time for an association whose mission it is to diversify and create a sustainable arts, crafts and cultural heritage in Eeyou Istchee, there is still much to decide on collectively. Questions like what to produce, what that product’s history is and how much should be shared about it with the rest of the world are issues at hand for the association.
“One of the objectives of the meeting was to start gathering information that would help CNACA promote cultural content when we sell the products. We don’t want to just sell the products; we also want to share a piece of the culture with it,” said CNACA Executive Director Manon Richmond.
The two-day meeting consisted of intensive product workshops not just to examine the creation of everything from moose-hide products to textiles to traditional tools but also to examine how a quality control could be established on these products.
A whole day was spent on how to market these products and what should be said about them. Richmond explained that for the Crees, a level of trust when it came to sharing this information with not only future generations but also the outside world was part of the meeting’s mission. Since Cree dialects vary between the coastal and inland communities, consolidating the cultural content on these traditional products was also discussed in Val-d’Or.
Though the products and their worth were at the heart of the issue, CNACA also used much of their time in Val-d’Or for consultation with their suppliers. Though the Cree Trappers Association provides most of the materials that the arts-and-crafts products are made from, what could be made available and how much those raw materials are worth were on the table for discussion.
With all of the information gathered from the two-day event in Val-d’Or, Richmond said that an advisory meeting met in early April to discuss where to go with it and the direction of the association. She said this is where CNACA’s bigger dreams began to take shape, lighting the path for the future.
“They decided that CNACA should be doing traditional factories,” said Richmond. “There is enough of a market for snowshoe factories, textiles factories, and tamarack decoy factories. Eventually, CNACA will play a big role in creating employment and economic development.”
Depending on the local interest and potential involvement of each community, not only would this vision provide for local employment for Crees but also traditional training centres for youth to learn these trades. Already CNACA is responsible for a traditional moose-hide training workshop in Ouje Bougamau and a tamarack-decoy making workshop in Waskaganish and more of these workshops could be set up in the other communities.
Richmond also said that a distribution point for the CNACA products is also going to be established in Val-d’Or so that the pregnant women who are flown to the city to give birth could have a means of making money while staying at the Friendship Centre there.
Citing the success of the many Inuit communities who formed mini co-ops under a larger co-operative to create and distribute their arts and crafts, Richmond said that the Crees are working similarly but in reverse.
“We created CNACA, the regional co-op, and now CNACA has to work with the communities and create mini local co-ops. This is what is written in chapter 28 of the JBNQA about structuring Cree Native Arts and Crafts. This is not something that we invented; it was our visionary leader at the time who laid that out for us to exist,” said Richmond.