Crees are asking questions about how the James Bay
Cree Cultural Education Centre is run. As one person put it, “It’s public money – there should be public knowledge.”
Janie Pachano knows the James Bay Cree Cultural Education Centre has an image problem.
“People have no idea what the Centre is doing. Like somebody said, ‘All you do is Elders’ Conferences. Why do you get paid full-time?'” she said.
“But we’re into a lot more than that.”
Pachano has spent the better part of her adult life nurturing and caring for the Centre out of her own house. It is her baby. On a mission to preserve the Cree culture and language, she struggled against the odds to make the Centre into something Crees can be proud of.
After 15 years, the Centre’s main office may still be in Janie Pachano’s basement in suburban Ottawa, but it’s now a $400,000-a-year institution at the heart of the cultural life of the Cree Nation. It sponsors the annual Youth and Elders’ Conference, preserves the teachings and legends of the Crees in books and on tapes, and helped create the Cree Nation Elders’ Council.
She was often alone in her work, getting little support from Cree politicians and bureaucrats. They mostly took a hands-off approach, leaving Pachano to carry the ball by herself when no one else would.
And for the most part, that seemed to suit her fine. She is described by one friend and co-worker as “one of the strongest women in the Cree Nation.”
As another Cree co-worker put it, “She likes to do things fast and she likes to do things on her own.”
She did everything—secretarial work, grant applications, keeping the books. Once a year, she would go to the Council Board—the nine chiefs and the Grand Chief—to get next year’s budget approved. And for the longest time, that’s pretty much the only outside scrutiny there ever was.
But as the Centre’s budget has rapidly grown in recent years, people have started wanting to know more about how the money was being spent.
The contribution from the Board of Compensation has grown five times since 1993—from $44,000 to $214,000 last year.
At a time when Crees are growing more concerned about keeping their culture and language strong, many wonder why the inner workings of the Cultural Education Centre appeared to be shrouded in mystery.
“It’s public money—there should be public knowledge,” said one Cree administrator contacted by The Nation.
“That has been the concern raised in many of the community assemblies,” agreed a Cree involved in the cultural field. “What is the role of the Cultural Centre and how do Crees benefit from that?”
Crees have asked what is the Centre’s mandate? Who—if anyone—is it accountable to? How is the money spent? Why are there so many trips around the world? What benefits are there from all the money at the local level? Why is the home of Cree culture located in a basement somewhere in suburban Ottawa?
$116,000 for trips
In response to these concerns, The Nation has looked into the Centre’s finances and invited Crees from all walks of life to give us their views on the Centre. Our investigation has raised new questions about the Centre’s operations.
Each year, the Centre releases to the public a four or five-page annual report with basic information about how its money is spent. Between 1993 and 1995, the Centre announced it spent $42,000 on travel expenses.
But the Centre’s financial statements reveal that another $74,000 was spent on trips that never found its way into the public annual reports—making the total $116,000.
This amount does not include expenses for bringing delegates to the Youth and Elders’ Conference. In one year alone, 1994, the Centre spent $65,000 on “International Cultural Conferences and Representations.”
Known travel destinations included Switzerland, New Zealand,
Phoenix, Arizona, Australia and Peterborough, Ontario.
In 1994, Janie’s husband Roderick received about $4,300 from the Centre for helping to chaperone a group of Cree kids on a Cree School Board trip to Australia. Janie Pachano explained to The Nation that at the time, she and her husband were also in Australia on a family trip. (Rod is chairman of the Board of Compensation.)
“Only the auditors have those figures”
Pachano also expressed surprise that the information we had was known to us.
“I’m surprised you have this information… Only the auditors have those figures, that detail. That stuff doesn’t even get into the audit,” she said
According to the Centre’s public reports, about $25,000 was paid in salaries and fringe benefits between 1993 and 1995.
The reports do not reveal that members of Janie Pachano’s family received some $97,000 in various payments during the same period. Of this amount, about $57,700 went to Joanne Newton, one of Pachano’s daughters, who got three summer jobs with the Centre that paid an average of over $19,000 each summer.
In 1994 and 1995, Roderick Pachano received $1,000 per month for renting office space for the Centre in the family’s house. Total: $24,000.
In 1994, Pachano got a second full-time job as Director-General of the Cree School Board, while still staying on as Director of the Cultural Centre.
The CRA, which had been paying Pachano’s salary as director, apparently decided she wouldn’t have time for both jobs. So she was taken off the CRA’s payroll.
Pachano threatened to sue. A bit of legal wrangling later, the two sides arrived at a settlement: Pachano would get “severance” equal to her accumulated 12 years of vacation pay. What raised eyebrows was that she got the severance even though she stayed on as the Centre’s director, and still was paid $42,000.
Her total pay that year was in the vicinity of $200,000 when her pay at the Centre and the School Board is added to the severance (which sources put at around $75,000).
The Centre spent over $412,000 on Cree language and cultural conferences and on the Cree Language Commission between 1992 and 1995.
Most of the individuals interviewed by The Nation agreed on the importance of these conferences and the Language Commission. But Crees involved in the cultural field said say they’ve seen few tangible results from these efforts.
“I would say most people are not aware of what the Centre is doing,” said a band administrator. “Basically, it’s only the politicians who know about that. Most people who are not involved are not aware. I haven’t seen any beneficial effects on the local level…
“For the cultural part, they do have these gatherings, but after that there is no news.”
Deputy Grand Chief Kenny Blacksmith raised similar concerns. “We have to be diligent in carrying out our responsibilities to our people, taking full cognizance of the accountability attached to that,” he said.
“Our people should understand who’s providing a service. There shouldn’t be all that confusion. It should be clear in people’s minds what this Centre is doing and the fruits of those labours should be clear, too.”
In order to shed more light on these questions, The Nation has filed an access-to-information request with the federal government. The feds provide the Centre with half its budget and are in possession of details about the operations of all public entities which they help to finance.
Janie Pachano responds
In a two-and-a-half-hour interview from her Ottawa home, Janie Pachano said there are good explanations for everything and she has nothing to hide.
First of all, she said she agrees the Centre should be moved to one of the communities, as Crees have requested in resolutions passed at two Annual General Assemblies.
But, as Pachano points out, where would it move? There’s no room in the Nemaska CRA office, no room in Montreal and no room in Ottawa. “So I’ve been carrying the Centre around on my back wherever I go.”
The Cree Museum in Ouje-Bougoumou could eventually house the Centre, she said, but that may not be for a while because the feds and Quebec government aren’t coughing up any funds.
“At the Annual General Assembly, we started to relocate the Centre to Ouje-Bougoumou. But there wasn’t even a town there. Other than a shaptuan, there was nothing. I couldn’t move there. So we’ve had to wait.”
Asked about the Centre’s hiring policy, Pachano acknowledged that she has hired her own daughters, but said they were the best people for the jobs. Also, all long-term hiring was approved by the Centre’s board of directors.
Regarding her daughter Joanne, Pachano said, “She was a recognized researcher by the government. She was here, where the archives were… We tried to get students wherever they happened to be going to school—if the archives were there. And I knew Joanne was not going to rip me off.
She’s a very serious worker.”
Pachano said Joanne Newton, who recently graduated from law school and is a lawyer, is now the Centre’s corporate secretary and is training someone who speaks Cree to take over.
“I’d hire my worst enemy if I feel they are the best person for the job. Whether I like them or dislike them, I don’t look at that. It’s whether they can do the job. And it happens to be my daughter.”
Concerning the many international trips: Pachano said they give Crees a chance to spread the word about Cree concerns. “People want to know about our culture. They want to know about spirituality.”
One of the trips even fulfilled a prophecy, Pachano said. An international council of Native Elders had invited her and Robbie Matthew of Chisasibi to New Zealand. “There was a peacock walking around where we were. Robbie Matthew saw it and he told us a legend,” said Pachano.
“(In the legend) somebody was abused and he had turned into a bird and would go to the end of the world. And apparently, it was a peacock. So Roddie told (the legend to) one of the members of the international group and they also had a story about someone who would come from up north. The guy who was in charge of that group was crying. They made Robbie a member of the council.”
As for the trip to Australia, Pachano at first claimed that her husband, Rod, paid for the trip himself. “My husband paid his own way and we paid for our kids ourselves,” she said.
But when asked about the $4,300 in cheques made out to her husband, she acknowledged the Centre did paid his way.
She said the Pachanos had originally planned a family vacation to Australia, but were asked to help chaperone a group of Cree youths who were going there too for a conference. It seems that once the students discovered the attractions in town, almost all of them started going out until six in the morning. “We would be all worried about where they were,” Pachano said.
There weren’t enough chaperones for all the youth, so Rod Pachano was recruited to help out. “I thought it was only fair to reimburse him for his travel.”
Pachano explained that her husband is getting paid rent by the Centre because it takes up space in the family’s houses in Nepean, Ont. and Chisasibi.
“Before I did anything, I asked (Grand Chief) Matthew (Coon Come). I told him, look, I’ve had the Centre for 10 years. I’m not getting reimbursed for the extra plugs, the extra shelving and everything else. And I said when I use the computers, you can really see a big difference in our electric bill.”
She told us her husband has been getting rent only during the last year. (Our figures show the rent payments started in 1994.)
As for the severance pay, Pachano said she contacted a lawyer who told her she was entitled to far more severance than she actually received. “They cut that salary from the Cree Regional Authority budget and that’s why they had to pay me a severance. If I had been paid through the Centre, that wouldn’t have been the case.”
Pachano said there is a problem in the Cree Nation with excessive bad-mouthing and gossiping about each other, especially people in the public eye. She suggested that Crees would be better off recognizing the accomplishments of other Crees.
What was Pachano most proud of accomplishing at the Centre after all these years? Her work with the Elders and organizing the yearly Youth and Elders’ Conferences, she said.
“When I took the job in 1982, I got a call from the Indian Affairs department and they said we can give you $70,000 more— can you use it by the end of the month? I said, sure,” she said.
“So I called an Elders’ conference and started consulting with the Elders to see what they thought the direction of the Cultural Centre should take. Later, the Elders invited the youth to join them in annual conferences.
“I guess I’m most proud of having kept that program going for this long,” said Pachano.
“This year, after 14 years, the Elders formed a regional council. The Elders themselves have come a very long way. They weren’t very confident during those early years. Now, they have become very outspoken. They see themselves having a very strong role.”