The Senneterre Crees are coming home. After years of feeling like outsiders in the Cree Nation, they want back in. And no one is more gung-ho than Irene Mianscum.
Irene knows all about home. At 24, she’s already lived in Waswanipi, Mistissini, Lac Simon and most recently Senneterre. But during all her travels, her heart was back home in Waswanipi. In March, she moved home with her husband, who now works for Mishtuk, and their son and daughter.
In the last four months, she has thrown herself into community life with a vengeance. She relearned Cree, which she heard growing up but wasn’t used to speaking. Now she speaks her language all the time and is teaching it to her kids. She also helps out at community functions by baking cakes. For the school graduation, she made a cake for 300 people. “That was the biggest cake I’ve made,” she laughs.
Irene, who is 24, has also quickly risen to a position on the executive committee of the Cree Nation Youth Council and remains co-chair of the Senneterre Native Youth Council (SNYC).
She wants the Senneterre Cree youth to be accepted as full members of the Cree Nation Youth Council and fully involved in the Cree Nation’s activities. “That’s why I moved to Waswanipi, to find out what I should do—to find out how to fight for the people in Senneterre.”
Senneterre youth are enthusiastic and eager to get involved. They want to learn more about the Iiyiyuu hunting way of life and the Iiyiyuu language. They also need jobs and adult education.
“It’s pretty hard for Natives to find jobs in Senneterre,” said Michel Nayassit, who is vice-president of the Youth Centre in the Senneterre Native Friendship Centre. Nayassit, 18, blames discrimination against Native job-seekers. He says the only jobs for Natives are in the Friendship Centre.
Five Senneterre youth will travel as delegates to the Cree Nation Youth Assembly in Mistissini, July 29 to Aug. 1. Some of the youth planned to return home by canoe tracing the water route of the Cree canoe brigades of yesteryear. But the trip had to be postponed for lack of money.
At present, Senneterre youth don’t receive any stable source of funding. While the CNYC has helped out on a project-by-project basis, most of their funds come from bingos, pool tournaments, carwashes and other fundraisers.
Irene praised CNYC chairman Bertie Wapachee for his help. But the Senneterre youth still don’t feel completely welcome.
“We would like more recognition within the CNYC,” says Vivian Cooper. “We feel like they don’t really want us.”
“We would like to be more informed about what’s happening,” agrees Pauline Ruperthouse-Mark, 22, SNYC co-chair.
Education is one topic Pauline plans to raise in Mistissini. While Senneterre Crees have the right to post-secondary education like any other Cree, two years ago they were told they could no longer participate in the Cree Adult Education program because of the 10-year clause in the James Bay Agreement, said Pauline.
She said local Crees would like their own reserve, “like Ouje-Bougoumou,” which would be the 10th member of the GCCQ. Many of the local Crees have long roots with traplines in the area, she said. “Even though we live in town, we don’t want to be left out. We would like for them to see us as Crees too.”