Nian Matoush with David Suzuki and Adult Education teachers.

Nian Matoush with David Suzuki and Adult Education teachers.

Now that the Roundtable on Capacity Building has finished touring nine Cree communities, involving wide swaths of Cree society and receiving thousands of comments and suggestions on how to make the Eeyou Istchee better for its people, the question is, what happens now?

The Roundtable process began in March 2013 in Ottawa and then hosted a two-day event of oral history and discussions in each community. According to Nina Matoush, the co-chair for the Roundtable’s Regional Planning Committee, the effort proved a grand success in sharing important messages.

“It was to mobilize the community, the parents, the youth and even the Elders to some extent. It was to realize this objective that we all have a part in capacity building,” said Matoush.

And that part, she explained, it’s all about what an individual can contribute to the growth of their community through their skills and abilities.

The data from the events is still being tabulated, comments catalogued, and oral histories that emerged from tour speakers and Elders archived, Matoush said. But she emphasized the immediate impact of the historic process that emerged through the reactions of people. She felt it in every thank you, handshake and hug that came at the end of the day of presentations and discussions from the participants.

What really proved effective, in her opinion, was the format for the event, which consisted of specially designed PowerPoint presentations combined with having those leaders who made history on hand to deliver the history in a storytelling format. Participants were then offered the opportunity to contribute to change by putting forth their ideas at the Cree Cafés.

“This was the ideal follow-up because whatever people did not have the chance to say during the presentations, they were able to do afterwards,” said Matoush.

The youth in attendance would often approach Matoush after the events to find out more about how they could contribute and would often end up following up with Post-Secondary Students Services.

“The format was one million times more effective than what you could read in a book because along with the presentation you got the anecdotes and the jokes and so you could actually envision the person at that point in time, like in 1971, getting mobilized and visiting the Elders in the communities and getting their ideas,” said Matoush.

“You could actually feel this, the feelings that they had at that time and you could identify with them so much.”

According to Matoush, she often witnessed Elders jumping at the chance to pick up the microphones and contribute and would return on the second day to talk more.

According to Darryl Diamond, who was part of the Roundtable’s Regional Planning Committee and also helped out with the Cree Café portion of the tour, it was all about gathering information from the people on various subjects.

“In the first seven communities and the visits we did in the winter and springtime of this year, we had discussions with high-school students to get feedback on life in the school and in the community. We partnered with the teachers who facilitated these discussions and documented everything,” said Diamond.

A log of all of the comments made at these events will be recorded in the final report on Roundtable tour.

According to Diamond, the process was similar to the one that the communities used to discuss the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement back in 1970s to get an understanding of the people’s concerns.

Preservation of lifestyle, housing, education and health were among the most common topics addressed.

Diamond said the group from the Roundtable also met with local coordinators to identify the priorities for each community so that strengths, weaknesses and resources could be discussed.

The result was engaging discussions where even those who may have just sat down to listen would end up making observations and contributions regarding culture, language and Cree life.

“At the Cree Cafés Elders would comment about their own childhoods and then express their concerns about the future generations. They would underline the drastic change we have experienced in our everyday life. We could see what a wonder it is to still have our traditions, language and our Elders to teach us,” said Diamond.

“At the same time, we had these youth saying that they didn’t know their language and didn’t want to know their language and so the spectrum of perspectives was incredibly vast.”

After the tour’s final stop in Oujé-Bougoumou and with one last presentation yet to make for the MoCreebec Cree, the regional group is still digesting the opinions, reflections and ideas that were expressed.

“Obviously we do see the trends as the Roundtable committee is not the only one who has been documenting where the Cree Nation has been going. This is one of the recent ones where we have been able to pinpoint how a community feels about its growth and its concerns,” said Diamond.

At the same time, because a great deal of the event was about transmission of oral history, Diamond said that they are considering making the report for this event in a video format.

“Our other intention for the Cree Café documentation is that we want it to go to the Boards of Directors, to the managers and management and say why not strike up a working partnership with the business department or the health department or whatever so that the needs of the communities can be seen and addressed,” said Diamond.

Louisa Saganash, chair for the Roundtable’s Regional Planning Committee, said she was able to see firsthand the personal history of each community. Saganash stressed the importance of preserving these history lessons for future generations.

“In Nemaska they were showing pictures of the old, old days and this really touched me. We can’t lose sight of where we come from and by seeing some of these images, of a little girl being pulled on a sled in the snow, I remembered being part of that. We tend to forget where we come from. I think we all need to know our history in order to find ourselves again,” said Saganash.

She added that this is important for Cree youth because many do not realize where they come from or know the leaders of the past and how Cree society came to be where it is today.

“If they can see that and get that vision then it will help them to go forward and with their education get jobs. As I will be mentioning in the report, there is so many resources out there to help them. It is all so available and there is no reason as to why they shouldn’t get their education,” said Saganash.

It is Saganash’s hope that through this tour that the Cree youth were able to realize just how much their nation needs them.

According to Saganash, individual reports will be made for each community event before a final strategy report is issued on how to implement the conclusions drawn from this ambitious project.