Everyone was milling about. The feast workers were busily setting the tables. Some young students came in with their teachers. The distinguished guests took to their designated seats and waited for the swearing in of the newly elected Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief. The banquet hall in Chisasibi’s community centre was slowly filling up. Everyone had taken their seats and there was standing room only. It was a typical autumn evening on the 18th of October.
Then the new Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff came in to applause. The standing ovation was reserved for Grand Chief Matthew Mukash when he walked in with his wife Danielle. Unfortunately there was a sad note to the affair.
Christopher Napash, the emcee, announced that due to the death of an elder the planned dance would not be taking place. There was also a moment of silence for her.
William Ratt a local elder then took to the stage. “Sometimes it’s not easy but we got to go on. We have to work together.” He sang a hymn from the hymnbook for the elder. He then did a prayer to open the event.
He sang a couple of songs with the traditional drum. One was about making your way in the world. “Everyone was given a way to live. We are all together here.” The next song was about Nkepamuudan carrying the weight, He looked to Mukash and said “I know he will be happy to carry the weight.”
Sam Awashish of Mistissini also sang a couple of songs with the drum. The first one was for “the work ahead” and he sang a hymn from the hymnbook accompanied with the drum. It was the students turn to welcome the new Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief. Cody Bobbish and Tia Bearskin both from grade 2 gave a very shy welcome to the Grand Chief and his Deputy. Then it was grade 6 student Julie Ann Quachegan’s turn on the mike. She said that they need to “recognize our dreams” and that as children they “needed nurturing and guidance.” And then she went on to more pragmatic concerns. “We need a youth center.” Deidra Pash of Sec. 4 then did her welcome in French. Then Chief Abraham Rupert said that now the elections are over “We need to work towards our hopes. To move our Nation forward.”
Then the moment everyone was waiting for Tom Wadden the justice of the peace then came up and asked Matthew to come up. He asked him to recite the oath and Matthew did it in Cree first, then in English. Then once Iserhoff’s turn was up the Cree Nation had a new Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief.
Youth Grand Chief John Matoush was one of the first people to address the newly sworn in leaders. He said he looked forward to working with both of them.
Then the traditional Grand Chief jackets were presented to Matthew and Ashley by Isaac and Dinah Loon. Dinah then explained the embroidered motifs on the jackets. “I put the animals on because we respect them so much. I put the moose and the bears on because they represent strength. I put the goose on the sleeves on the right side, the side they shake hands with.” She’s made jackets for the previous Grand Chiefs. After the jackets were given then some gifts were exchanged.
One of the gifts was from Billy Diamond of Niskamoon corporation himself a former Grand Chief gave a wolf carving to Mukash he remarked that the wolf bites and that Matthew was expected to do the same. He also said 35 years ago the fight started here and I never thought I’d be working with Hydro Quebec.
Then Lillian Pitawanikwat an elder from Manitoulin Island was asked to come up she remarked that the energy in this room would move mountains. She sang a with her drum and the song was in honour of the heartbeat.
Then Ashley did his speech. He thanked his family for the support throughout the years. He mentioned his grandparents and how their philosophy was to never give up. He then challenged everyone “I ask each of you to be part of the leadership today, get involved in our community activities, contribute to the well-being of our Nation. Empty words are meaningless unless we contribute. Let’s walk together, listen to each other, encourage each other. This is what I have learned from my family.” After Ashley’s speech the feast followed.
During the feast Matthew went up to do his inaugural speech. He touched upon a few issues. Like the new relationship agreement. “Some of us have expressed our objection to the way in which the Paix Des Braves Agreement was negotiated and presented to the Cree Nation for approval. We must ensure that in the future there is more time to consider such agreements and more dialogue about the content before they are ratified.”
He then went on salute the past leaders “we should recognize and acknowledge the efforts made by former Grand Chief Ted Moses, as with Matthew Coon Come and Billy Diamond before him, they all made important personal sacrifices for the betterment of the Cree Nation.” He then went on to one of his election platforms of strengthening the Cree nation. “Nation building will only be complete once we enact a Cree Constitution that defines our nationhood, membership, and establishes an acceptable working relationship with Quebec and Canada as equal partners in our development. We must promote the inclusion of Washaw Sibi and MoCreebec and other Crees living outside of Eeyou Istchee.” Then a pressing environmental issue was mentioned. “The Ouje-Bougoumou contamination issue must be treated with utmost urgency. Not enough has been done to proceed with the clean up of the environmental problems created by past mining operations in Ouje-Bougoumou territory. The extent of the damages already caused needs to be clearly identified. The studies that have been done to date both by Quebec and by the joint Cree-Quebec efforts have been slow and have not answered the fears of the people of Oujé Bougoumou. We look for cooperation from Quebec and Canada to deal with this issue.”
The night closed with some singing. The Deputy Grand Chief’s mom Annie summed up the evening. “I still find it so unreal still. It hasn’t sunk in yet. Maybe after this night it’ll feel more real.”