Cree history was made on May 2 as Romeo Saganash won the first Parliamentary seat ever to go to a James Bay Cree when he was elected to be the new New Democratic Party of Canada MP for the Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou.

Saganash, who beat out Bloc Québécois incumbent Yvon Lévesque, said that halfway through the election it was actually a tight race between him and Conservative Party candidate Jean-Maurice Matte. But Saganash came out on top with almost 14,000 votes.

“I am very glad about the win obviously. I felt it was important to get a strong mandate and I got that. I got nearly 14,000 votes. We had calculated that I would need about 9000 votes to win but I got 14,000 and that is just excellent,” said Saganash.

Saganash talked about campaigning over the past few months and said that he experienced a tremendous amount of warmth from the voters throughout the region, particularly in Val-d’Or, which had previously been a Bloc stronghold under Lévesque.

Saganash said he was frequently approached by people in grocery stores, restaurants and on the street and told that they used to vote for the Bloc, Liberals or Conservatives, but now they would be voting for him because they wanted to see a change and Saganash representing the NDP was that change.

Saganash recalled meeting one man in front of his home with his child while going for a morning run on Election Day.

“I asked him if he had voted already and he said no but that he was going to go. The next day I met his wife at one of the radio stations in Val-d’Or and she told me that her husband is 47 and this was the first time he had ever voted in his life,” said Saganash.

The minute his win was confirmed, Saganash said he used the opportunity to reaffirm his relationships with the leadership and business community in the region.

During election night and well into the next day, Saganash was contacting members of regional and local governments to reestablish his ties with them so that he can move forward to benefit the region in the best way possible.

“I am pretty satisfied with what has been going on. I felt that it was important to start right away and establish those lines of communication because I have committed myself to work in collaboration with everybody in the riding and that is what I wanted to establish from the very first day,” said Saganash.

While there is no word yet as to whether NDP party leader Jack Layton will appoint Saganash with an official party position, like Aboriginal Affairs Critic, in light of his 30 years of experience working with the Grand Council of the Crees, the new MP said he is hopeful that he can play a major role in the party.

And, while he has never held a parliamentary position before, Saganash said he doesn’t feel it necessary to undergo any of the new MP coaching that seasoned Quebec NDP MP Thomas Mulcair is offering to many of the province’s new NDP MPs.

For that matter, after having worked with parliamentary committees in Quebec and Ottawa on so many occasions on behalf of the GCC, Saganash said he would probably have a lot to offer to the new kids in the party.

As for his first matters of business, Saganash said he was going to keep on with his campaign promises and is committed to showing strong leadership when it comes to the challenges that he will be facing.

“We need to play a major role in resource development, in sustainable development, in relations between Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal peoples in the region, and we need to work in collaboration, cooperation and partnerships with others. These are the messages that I had throughout the campaign,” said Saganash.

At the same time, Saganash resounded with confidence when discussing these matters as he said the framework for dealing with these issues is already there, it is just a matter of ensuring that it is respected. That constitutional agreements like the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Paix des Braves and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are already in place to forge a balance between development, the rights of the peoples and environmental sustainability.

Looking to the future with hope in his heart for what he will be able to do for the people of his riding, more so than anything, Saganash said he wanted to express his gratitude to all of those who voted for him whether they are Cree, Inuit, Algonquin or Québécois. Every vote counted and he is grateful for it.