I recently had the honour of being recognized as the Economic Developer Officer of the Year at the annual gala held by the Eeyou Economic Group, which is directed by my peers from the other Cree communities. As I thought about what I would say and which speech mode I should shift into – gracious, casual, documental – the emcee stifled my preparation when he requested the winners keep it short and sweet. Might as well stick my thumb up and flash a toothy smile for all anyone cares. So… I decided to share my winning speech with all those who couldn’t witness my moment of glory.
The wild North – strong, free and pretty damn cold in the winter – makes it difficult for even the most confident crowd pleaser to choke back on a few ideas that should work or go bust up here. When I first arrived in the Whapmagoostui area, known back then as Great Whale River, there seemed to be an awful lot of sand, rocks and water. Seagulls were quite plentiful, making 2-Mile Beach’s surf tantalizing, if you are able to stand the 3º water temperature for long enough.
The summer days seem endlessly clear and blue, punctuated with a severe coastal fog that conveniently appears just before the big jet aircrafts would swoop in, making it a hazardous trip on bad weather days. This was the near the end of the Cold War, when the Russians were our biggest enemy and only the toxic-waste dumps of radar sites and camps strewn across the North reminded us that we were closer to peace than ever. Little did we know at that time, about the world around us.
I came back over the years to see little had changed, and you could always depend on GWR to look busy, no matter what time of the day it was. The clear blue skies dotted occasionally with clouds brought back the reality that you really were in an isolated town somewhere in northern Quebec.
Then some buildings started going up that made the community grow – a new band office, a fully equipped triple gymnasium, a new town hall in Kujjuuarapik, actual running water and sewage infrastructure, new daycares, youth centre and the arena. Then a new swimming pool and new restaurant, before the internet and cellphone service gently nudged the community into the 21st century. You could say, that the community grew with its new population growth.
When I looked at these resources turn into jobs and businesses, I look at the possibilities that the youth can come up with. While my baby-boom generation rebelled against our parents and the system, the upcoming generation will just create a new system altogether of doing business. We are already in an age where information is the new resource and managing all that information will take oodles of supercomputers, though it still takes a human to unpack it and plug it into the wall. Such is the future, where technology breaks all boundaries and brings the world to your iPod or to your massive yet thin 3DTV.
I can’t wait for the day when I will be able to watch the local team play in another town live delivered by fibre cable to my living room. I can’t wait to see the day when kids trained at home on their computers pass their final exams and then quietly go to check the net for fish in one of the many pristine lakes that cover the entire North.
I can’t wait for the day when parents are able to learn things from their long-dead ancestors through the teachings of their own grandchildren via interactive education that makes the world the classroom. Imagine, no more textbooks that barely explain things in simple terms, when you can learn live about another culture from the other side of the world and vice versa.
I am just laying the foundation for those dreams which may one day fuel our economic future by making sure that we develop surely and solidly, one dream at a time…