According to Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, June 28 will go down in the history books of the Cree nation as a day of pride and celebration as yet another dream, once conceived of by Cree Elders some 40 years ago, has finally been realized.
The rainy June morning marked not only the opening of the new Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF) facility but also the swearing in of Police Director Reggie Bobbish. The morning’s ceremony was then followed by a community feast.
In his address to the many who had gathered from throughout the communities for the historic event, Coon Come spoke of how the new facility wasn’t just a symbol of pride because of its magnificence but because it also demonstrated the capacity of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee to assume governance responsibilities in a key sector, that of police and public security.
Coon Come also spoke about the moments in history that had led up to this final inauguration so that it may benefit the Cree people the most.
While the EEPF was established by the Cree Regional Authority on April 1, 2011, it has taken literally decades of hard work on behalf of many bodies within the Cree nation for the formation of the regional police force to come to fruition as it was laid out in Section 19 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).
Originally, the Agreement stipulated that there be two kinds of police forces in the Cree territory: (1) the Cree Units of the Sûreté du Québec and (2) the Cree Local Community Police Forces.
However, in Complementary Agreement No. 19 to the JBNQA, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), the Cree Regional Authority, and the governments of Quebec and Canada agreed to amend the JBNQA so that “Cree Units of the Sûreté du Québec” were replaced by “Cree Local Community Police Forces”, who in turn were to be replaced by a new Cree regional police force, the EEPF.
Coon Come went on to explain how the Police Act, established on April 1, 2009, helped to create the legislative framework for the establishment of the EEPF. This was one of a handful of other Acts, each step necessary to the process. He reviewed each of them so that all those attending the inauguration could grasp exactly how much time and effort went into the creation of this police force and why Crees can take pride in it.
“To me this was a great moment in the history of the Cree nation. We have certainly achieved one of the dreams of our people during the negotiations that have led up to this point. Their dreams to have their own police force, their own justice buildings and to be able to have their own regional police force have been realized. Forty years later we now have officially inaugurated the head office of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force,” said Coon Come, reflecting on the event.
In a speech made regarding his swearing in and the headquarters inauguration, Bobbish spoke about how happy he was to be amongst his people to celebrate this moment. After thanking several individuals for their contributions, including the Police Commission, its former president, Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff, Anthony Hester, Calvin Blacksmith and Dave Heritage as well as several other Cree clans that have contributed to the legacy of Cree policing, Bobbish turned his attention to how the new EEPF will make a difference.
“You have probably noticed our new uniforms; new colours or even our new headquarters. Although these are nice to have, what I’m most proud of is our emblem and our motto ‘Proud to Serve’. Those words are not meaningless and as your new
police director, I hereby commit myself to do everything in my power to improve the security of my fellow citizens,” said Bobbish.
Coon Come discussed how the new police headquarters and each integral aspect of the newly emerging justice system within the Cree nation is not only changing the face of justice within the communities but also the image of justice and its impact on the people.
“It is always a real challenge how to integrate your own customs and values in respect to sentencing for people who commit these crimes. Some are very petty but people need to understand that our police officers, our special constables, are there to help people. They are there for safety, for security and the people need to feel safe. It is only the people who break the laws who are afraid of the police. Good, law-abiding citizens should not be afraid of the police,” said Coon Come.
With the celebrations completed, the new regional police headquarters fully operational, a handful of new justice facilities already working and several more slated to open soon, the face of justice has changed dramatically in Eeyou Istchee in just a few short years. How this will impact the Cree people is yet to be seen however.