The rumour mill swung into motion during the week of February 16 when Alfred Loon attended a supposed mayors’ meeting in Radisson, hosted by MBJ mayor Gérald Lemoyne.
What was thought to be a secret mayors’ meeting that excluded many Cree communities turned out to be a brief get-together of the Table Québec-régions (TQR) that meets periodically to address regional concerns with the minister in charge, Nathalie Normandeau.
“It is the way that the Quebec government has decided to deliver either their local or regional ongoing programs through this table,” explained Loon, a Economic Development Office for the Grand Council of the Crees.
Representatives from the 17 Quebec administrative regions meet with Normandeau, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy, three to four times a year, according to Loon. These meetings are an opportunity for each region to express their economic concerns to the minister, discuss economic development and find out about new programs and services available through the ministry.
“When the Liberals came in they revamped the whole program and created these organizations and with various tables,” said Loon. Though usually the TQR meetings happen in Quebec City, occasionally they will meet in other administrative regions. Loon said that Lemoyne had been vying to have a meeting in the north for some time though it had not happened previously on account of logistical problems.
“Our region, region 10, which includes Eeyou Istchee, is a very diverse region. There are three distinct groups that live in the region including us, the Inuit and the Municipality of Baie James or the Jamiesons as they like to be called,” said Loon.
Region 10 is the only one out of the 17 that is represented by three distinct groups. According to Loon, the TQR and the Cree Regional Authority, in Eeyou Istchee, are responsible for administering programs within the region. Through the ministry, each region gets around $2 million annually for operations and projects.
In previous meetings, the Crees were able to get in on programs for the elderly that were being offered through the ministry. Loon said that at the recent meeting, which lasted less than half a day, a gender-equality agreement was the major topic of conversation. The agreement relates to issues of economy, representation and security for women and is in the process of being finalized by the TQR.
Because of all of the activity in terms of economic development going on within region 10, Loon felt that the meeting was the perfect opportunity to present the Crees to the rest of the TQR.
“I made a presentation about who we are in the communities just to reinforce who we are in Eeyou Istchee. We want to be part of any new developments in terms of what we can access in terms of projects. It was also to consult as to what is happening in the Inuit community,” said Loon.
On behalf of the Crees, Loon made a presentation on the telecommunications network that the communities have long waited to see built. With the new cabling system in place, high-speed Internet will be available in the communities and will open up many doors for the Crees.
“This project involves the Cree Nation and also the municipalities. It’s the region’s project with Cree leadership. We are going to be majority owners of the network because over 75% of it is going to be in our territory and that, to me, is important,” said Loon.
Loon said that though he has attended these kinds of meetings in the past, he feels it necessary to continue to go to them so that the Cree presence is felt. The idea is to let the other regions know that the Crees are not “anti-development,” and are quite interested in participating in any regional development projects. At the same time, Loon maintains that with any project the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement must be respected and he feels that his presence at the meetings serves as a reminder of that.
“Sometimes they do try and go against the agreements that we have and then we react because we have to protect our interests,” said Loon.