How to reconcile jobs with the environment? How to get Cree control over development so the hunting and trapping way of life can be preserved?

Crees will be pondering those questions at a special assembly of the Cree Nation on forestry and other development projects, to be held in Ouje-Bougoumou Feb. 19 to 22.

“Development has occurred in the Cree Territory for the longest of times without any Cree involvement,” said Jack Blacksmith, head of the Cree Forestry Working Group.

“One of the things we’re hoping for from the assembly is a real discussion and a common stance of what we’re going to do about development, because that’s what’s lacking.”

Blacksmith said the assembly is a chance to look for a balance between development and the preservation of the environment.

“We don’t want to block development 100 per cent in our territory,” he said. “We need employment for the young. Jobs need to be created – that’s a reality. But there are ways to make these things balanced and that’s what we need to find.”

Blacksmith said the main thing is “to remember who we are” – a hunting society dependent on the land.

The special assembly was originally going to be held in Chibougamau or Val d’Or, but organizers decided on O.J. after recent complaints of discrimination at the Chibougamau Inn (see The Nation, no. 5).

“Right away, everyone said Chibougamau was out. There were no second thoughts,” said Blacksmith, who expressed frustration about continued discriminatory attitudes toward Crees in the town. “It’s still very, very visible,” he said.

Blacksmith calculated that the assembly would have injected about $30,000 into Chibougamau’s economy.

And from Nemaska, another report of problems at the Chibougamau Inn. Nemaska Chief George Wapachee told The Nation about two Nemaska women who checked into the hotel last summer and prepaid for their rooms. After going to sleep, they got a call after midnight from the receptionist demanding that they come down and pay a $250 damage deposit.

Angered by their treatment, the women said they would change hotels and asked for a refund. At first, the hotel offered only half their money back, but after a heated exchange, agreed to a full refund. The women checked in at the Harricana Hotel, where no deposit was required.

“This is what they do to Native people at a lot of places now,” said Chief Wapachee. “They seem to put everybody in one pot. We talk about living side by side. These things don’t help.”

Hotel owner Pierre Savage angrily denied the complaints. “We receive Crees with open arms. They will be welcomed and treated as well as anyone else. I can prove it before a judge!”