Reggie Mark is the new chief of Wemindji. To get the job he did what many before him couldn’t. He unseated Walter Hughboy, who had been chief for 21 years, longer than any other Cree chief in power at the time. Mark’s first weeks on the job have been very busy. We caught up with him earlier this month.
By Alex Roslin


Thank you very much.

It sounds like you’ve already got a lot to do. Did you expect there would be this much to do when you were running for chief?

In a way. But not that much at the beginning. I think it would be a slow integration into the office. But as it turned out, we got sworn in and the next day we took the office.

And you’ve been busy ever since.

I’ve been busy updating myself on different files, and I updated the new council members as much as I could at the same time as myself.

The election may have been kind of a surprise for the old chief, who was there for so long. Have you had a chance to speak with him after the election?

I would rather not make any comments on that.

Can you say what you stood for in the election?

At the beginning of the campaign, I said that a priority would be given on some of the social problems we’re having in the community. For example, the alcohol and the family situations. These would be the priority – to improve the community life. Because when it came to weekends, it was terrible. It affected my family, my grandchildren, and being in the community it affected a lot of people. People would talk about it and the message I was reading from that was they seemed so helpless, they couldn’t do anything about it. So I basically came out and said we would have to deal with it. But the community has to support me, and we have to deal with it as a community for it to work.

What possible things can be done?

First of all, what I did was the first week in office, in the afternoon,
I made myself available to the people to come in and talk with me individually, or as a family or as a group. I was seeking where they saw the problem, and the kind of solutions to handle the situation. The people were very, very helpful in that.

There was a general assembly of the Cree Health Board a few months ago, and they talked about the lack of services for some of the social issues in the communities. Do you think there has to be more resources to deal with those types of issues, or it has to be done in a better way?

I was not at the general assembly, and I have never seen a report
from the general assembly. But locally, there are services available for some of these social issues, and they weren’t used effectively. One of the things that came out here was the health committee – I said I would revive it, and the people have to set the mandate, what they expect from the health committee. And these health committee members would be elected instead of appointed. We’re in the process of trying to address some of these other problems that are related to the social life.

I remember a while ago there were some concerns in the community about how the Sakami Fund was being administered. Do you have any views on that yourself? Do you think there’s a danger that the money might be disappearing too fast?

Next week, our treasurer is going to give us all the financial stuff. Right now, I wouldn’t feel comfortable making any comment on it.

As you know, there’s been a lot of discussion about having a new hydro-electric project. Some of the communities wanted to negotiate with Hydro-Quebec by themselves, without involving the Grand Council. Do you think it’s been handled properly until now?

First of all, in my campaign I invited people to come in and make their comments on future hydro projects like EM-1. But I felt that there was not enough information flowing to the people. This office, we’re going to set it up so there is a lot of information going to the people, where they participate. And I basically said that I would not come up with whether I support it, but I would listen to the people.

Looking at things from the Cree Nation perspective, all the nine communities, what do you think are the main issues as we go into the next millennium?

The first issue I think is the unity question. I do believe that all the Crees should be united. Also, when you talk about the regional entities, we have to start working together with the regional entities in joint ventures. Then you have a very strong unity in the end, where all the Cree entities – whether they’re regional or local – it’s all for the Crees. At the end, at the Grand Council level you end up with a very strong unity. We have to be united.

Do you think right now the local entities, like some local companies, and the regional entities don’t work well enough together, or compete against each other?

I think they compete quite a bit. Basically, it’s Cree money against Cree money. Whereas, they should be together and work for the benefit of the Cree Nation for employment.

Do you have any final thoughts you want to share?

I would like to say I’m very pleased with our present council. It’s a mixture of youth, people who are harvesting, who follow the traditional life, and it’s young, middle-aged and a little bit older. I want to thank the people of Wemindji and I hope they keep supporting us. We just need time.