As the province’s Plan Nord for development in the north is finally moving into the action phase, a handful of Cree business bigwigs have made some proactive moves, presenting what Cree business and a Cree workforce can do for the mining industry at a major international mining event.

This year’s Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s (CIM) annual conference was held in Montreal May 22-25 and brought major players from across the country and around the globe to discuss, learn and shmooze together.

Right in the heart of the industry showroom, the Cree Mineral Exploration Board (CMEB), along with the Secretariat to the Cree Nation-Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance, were holding court at their own booth and speaking to eager companies and industry types looking to do business.

On behalf of the CMEB, Jack Blacksmith spoke to the Nation to explain to the rest of the Cree world just what the CMEB and the Alliance were hoping to accomplish at the event.

“We are going to be presenting our organization first and foremost, the Cree Mineral Exploration Board and what we do in Cree territory and how long we have been there. We will also talk about how we have tried to help our people into being involved in the mineral exploration industry. This is our main reason for being here,” said Blacksmith.

Former Grand Chief Ted Moses also made a major presentation on behalf of the Alliance at the conference and this was another important event since, as Blacksmith explained, the CIM event is one of the most technical and complex events of its nature than any other mining event in the province.

While Blacksmith was there on behalf of his own people, he was also there to participate in a presentation by Learning Together, an organization geared toward helping First Nations across Canada learn about the mining industry in order to help their own nations.

While the Crees have certainly benefited from their many years of creating deals for natural resource development with industry and government, participating in Learning Together gives the Crees an opportunity to help educate other nations that may not yet be as savvy.

But in terms of what the CMEB and the Alliance had to showcase, Blacksmith said the Crees possess a bevy of goods that could be a benefit to both industry and Crees alike.

“One of the things that we will explain is how people can use the maps that we have on our website. On, we have the whole territory charted and it shows how the divisions of the traplines are made by the CTA – this is the map we use.

“In this map we have done a lot of work in terms of describing what is in the territory, how many square kms there are, who the main tallymen are, how to contact them, their communities, what kinds of services the communities offer and the kind of work some individuals in these communities can do for whatever company comes into the territory,” said Blacksmith.

Blacksmith said this unique tool was created so that when companies are looking at development in Eeyou Istchee, all they have to do is click on a targeted area and they will get the information they need. This information is there so that a dialogue can begin immediately between Crees and those looking to develop.

As for the Plan Nord, with major development in mining planned for the territory, the CMEB is hyper focused on ensuring Cree participation in the looming employment boom.

“We have to be ready in terms of getting our people the proper training, not only as miners but also as professionals. We have to determine what is needed and start training our people so that they can be more than just miners,” said Blacksmith.

While there are other bodies at work within the Cree nation to make sure that the necessary education and training programs will be available to the Cree, Blacksmith acknowledged the other end of Cree participation – the stewardship of the land.

While the footprint the mining industry leaves behind after development can be a heavy one, Blacksmith stressed how Cree participation and partnerships within the industry is essential in order to preserve the land for future generations. Cree participation is necessary because it is the tallymen who know this land best and who are best suited when it comes to planning the future of the land.

At the same time, working side-by-side with industry is about creating better futures for young Crees.

“We have a very young population and that tells us that we have to be very creative in making these jobs available to them. We have to train them properly and give them the necessary skills so that they can get the other technical jobs that might be offered by different mining companies,” said Blacksmith.