Eastmain is pushing ahead with plans to build an arena which will house a place for the Elders to meet, the children to have a daycare and for the youth of the community to have a place to play hockey thoughout the blistery cold winter months, amongst other activities.
It is a definite need for Eastmain, which has 75 per cent of the community under the age of 35.
Chief Kenneth Gilpin has demonstrated the ethic of “where there is a will there is a way.” The goverment promised to fund the building of a community centre and an arena for each Cree community. The youth in this 500-strong community remember waiting for it for 11 years.
Other hardships endured by Eastmain are that of 15 traplines of the Eastmain community, nine traplines have been affected by the hydro-electric dams.
Three have been totally flooded. The community has also had to wait until 1983 to have a water and sewage system be instituted.
The chief and five other Crees took the initiative to walk 7I0 kilometres from Val d’Or to Eastmain last year to emphasize their wish for the government to live up to its promise. This year the anniversary of the walk was celebrated with another 10-km walk, and there were about 50 children and 10 adults who participated.
The walk lasted two short hours, and the children were laughing and playing throughout. ”l hope there will be a contract to sign when we arrive in Eastmain. I hope there will be a groundbreaking ceremony today,” said the chief during the walk, and there was.
The cool weather was “good for walking,” although it drizzled at times, but then the clouds opened up to let the sun shine through and present the community with a rainbow at the end of the walk. “Let’s do this every year,” said the chief, and it looks like Eastmain will celebrate the event with an anniversary walk every year. He invites other individuals to show support for the arena by sending donations and to walk next year.
The funding thus far has been raised by the community of Eastmain. At least $100,000 was raised through bingos.
Eastmain has asked the feds and Quebec to each contribute $3.3 million to the project, but both governments have not acquiesced.
“We’re a small community, but we can do it. Nothing is impossible if you believe in it,” said Deputy Chief Rusty Cheezo at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“We all worked together to accomplish our dreams, and we are seeing our dreams fulfilled,” said Chief Gilpin at the ceremony, which he opened with a prayer of thanks to the Creator.
This was followed with a noisy parade through the town by the champion players of the Eastmain Softball Team that won the Waswanipi Softball Tournament this year. They and the rest of the community were then had a goose meat feast.
All in all Eastmain had many reasons to celebrate aside from the momentous signing of the contract to build the arena and community centre.
Daniel and Florence Moses celebrated their 35th anniversary and Deputy Chief Rusty Cheezo celebrated his 43rd birthday.
The full day of events was concluded with fiddle music and demonstrations of the country step-dance style by the youth’s dance group, many members of the community and Howard Gilpin, champion dancer and 2nd place winner of the Best Square-Dancer (Male) category in The Nation’s Best of James Bay Cree Achievement Awards ‘97.