The Grand Council of the Crees board meeting was running smoothly, albeit a bit long, when one derogatory comment from an elected official turned the mood sour.
Matthew Coon Come turned to Dr. John Murdoch during his presentation at the meeting in mid-July and asked him if the middle initial in his name, S in this case, stood for “shit,” according to three sources, including Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff.
Coon Come wasn’t impressed with Murdoch’s report, detailing the Crees’ rights under the constitution amongst other things, and affirming the need for Crees to take a more proactive approach to their future. Murdoch asked for $50.000 to further examine his findings and to sit down and discuss it with the GCC, but he was refused.
“Everyone has an opinion,” said Deputy Grand Chief Iserhoff about the mud-slinging incident. “When you express it at a board meeting however, it has to be done with respect.”
“I was in shock when that statement was made. It’s not a reflection of what we think as leaders.”
Coon Come is currently dealing with the residential school issue and working as a consultant within the Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority.
Iserhoff said that although the incident happened at a Grand Council meeting, it would not be up to the GCC to reprimand the former National and Grand Council Chief.
“The community elected their board member and he represents Mistissini. If the people want to pursue it, it’s a local matter; the people who elected him are the ones who will deal with it.”
Iserhoff distanced himself and the GCC from Coon Come’s comments as much as he could. “The view of Mr. Coon Come is not the view of the Grand Council. If there is an apology given it is an issue between the two individuals,” he affirmed.
Chisasibi Housing Crisis
There was also some serious business to take care of. Chisasibi Chief Abraham Rupert asked for emergency funding for the housing crisis in Chisasibi. Mould has become a huge problem and it is adversely affecting people with breathing problems as well as Elders and youth.
Mould and ice crystals have formed inside some residents’ houses and are partially caused by the humidity given off by the La Grande project, according to Iserhoff.
The amount given to the Chisasibi Band Council was $3.5 million over 14 years. It is not viewed as a cure to Chisasibi’s housing ills, but will go a long way towards addressing the housing crisis and the health problems associated with mould.
The Caisse Populaires agreed to lend Niskamoon the money after receiving a guarantee that the loan will be backed up by the GCC and their emergency fund. There was a question as to what would happen if the monies slated for these types of renovations were re-directed elsewhere by the GCC in the coming years.
The fund is part of the Paix des Braves Agreement and is administered by the GCC. A letter of undertaking to the Caisse was given by the GCC, and it meant that any future ruling to halt the cash flow to Chisasibi would obligate the GCC to take the bank into consideration as well.
“Health issues are big in the communities when it comes to mould,” said Iserhoff. “This is something we had to act on fast.”
There was also talk of setting a date to discuss the long-term strategy of the Cree Nation and where it was headed.
“When elected we talked about long-term planning,” he said. “The Board of Compensation and Creeco are organizing the meeting so it’ll help us as a Nation as to where we’re going to go for the future.”
“A lot of our youth are going to school and coming home with degrees and they are not able to find jobs. I believe we have the resources in place today to combat that problem. People want employment security so they can help their families and invest for the future,” Iserhoff continued. “It’s very important to have a plan of action for the future and that is what we’ll be looking at in the coming months.”
Another important topic discussed was a Cree television station, said Iserhoff. The Cree Secretariat, along with the GCC and the James Bay Cree Communication Society formed a board to look into the feasibility of Cree TV. As part of the consultation process, they will be looking at cost effectiveness and the need for a Cree television station run by Crees, for Crees.
“It’s an important tool,” said Iserhoff. “Our people are very visual, they like seeing what’s going on. They listen to the radio a lot, but if we had our own TV channel, well I think it’s been a long time coming. Hopefully in a couple years we’ll be able to see the first Cree TV station.”
Iserhoff sees the proposed station as a way to bridge the gap between the nine communities in the vast territory of Eeyou Istchee. He said that TV channels already set up by the Maori people of New Zealand and the Mohawks in Kahnawake are examples of what can be done for a Nation that is experiencing a high population growth rate.
“It’s a very strong tool that the Crees can use to stimulate discussions,” Iserhoff continued. “We want to use the ideas from other First Nations for the benefit of the Crees.”