While the Washaw Sibi Cree still remain displaced living amongst the Algonquins in the community of Pikogan, the Council Board of the Grand Council of the Crees/ Cree Regional Authority has finally set up a corporate entity that will manage the allocated funds and issue all of the contracts dealing with the outside consultants.
This was explained to the Nation by Paul Wertman, an advisor to the Washaw Sibi Cree who has worked with the Cree nation for almost 30 years and is now working alongside Washaw Sibi Chief Billy Katapatuk.
In the 1950s, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs promised the Washaw Sibi Cree their own community and talked many of them into moving onto the Pikogan reserve near Amos, Quebec. Those Cree have since languished amongst the Algonquin, not due to mistreatment but because they have lived as perpetual outsiders without support for their language or culture since they are outnumbered and share already bare-bones resources.
“In our past, we’ve been either forced to move, or we’ve had few other options but to move, whether it be to Pikogan or any number of other First Nations communities. People seem to think that we belong to Waskaganish, Pikogan, Waswanipi or Moose Factory. But people in those places don’t think we really belong there either. We are Washaw Sibi Eeyuch and the only place we really belong is in our own home,” said Katapatuk.
Recently, the New Village Corporation was formed pursuant to a GCC/CRA resolution. The new entity will be in charge of managing the funds and dealing with the contracts that are related to the planning and construction of the new village though the planning itself will be community-based.
While this new entity will be handling the administrative aspects of forming the community, it will be the people slated to move into the new community who will be determining their future as they will be involved in every aspect of the community-planning initiative.
This will be done based on a four-pillar strategy with the first one being minimizing costs wherever possible.
The second pillar is based on healing in recognizing that these Cree are coming to this juncture in their collective lives with baggage and that for a new village to function successfully, people, both on an individual level and a collective level, need to address numerous issues that could move them towards dysfunction.
The third pillar will be youth engagement. It is the belief of the Washaw Sibi Cree that the youth have to be intimately involved because before long the youth will be running this village. Community members need to be totally committed and engaged in seeing the new village is built properly so that the Washaw Sibi youth will have a reason to get out of bed in the morning when it is finished. This is going to be an essential part of the planning.
“It isn’t fair to our children and to our future generations that they do not have a home of their own. That’s why we’ve been struggling so hard to have a new village – so that our children will feel that they belong somewhere. Everywhere we’ve been we’ve always felt like outsiders. It’s time to change that. Everyone deserves to feel that they belong somewhere,” said Katapatuk.
The fourth pillar is sustainable development. Community members have made it clear at various meetings that they want this new village to be respectful of Cree culture and traditions and in keeping with that the desire is to have a green village whenever possible.
According to Wertman, these pillars were designed to work as umbrella concepts that will inform all of the other technical planning whether it is urban design, economic development, tourism or infrastructure. They all have to be cognizant and be reflective of these four major pillars.
Because the Washaw Sibi Cree define themselves as being distinct from the communities they have been forced into, they have spent decades suffering a much poorer standard of health, economic prosperity, employment levels and general satisfaction with life. They wish only to have what Crees in the other nine communities enjoy daily.
“We are looking forward to having our own village so that we can begin to properly look after our own people. We want our Elders to be somewhere comfortable and we want our youth to believe that they have a future,” said Katapatuk.