Chatter in Cree and robust laughter could be heard all the way throughout Mont Tremblant’s resort village and its golf courses on Labour Day weekend as almost 400 Crees and their business partners congregated for a good cause.
The first-ever Cree Nation Achievement Awards Foundation (CNAAF) fundraiser was the draw for this magical weekend at one of Quebec’s most prestigious resorts and golfing areas and, despite the less-than-ideal weather, a good time was had by all.
On Saturday, September 4, under ominous clouds and sporadic rain showers, the Crees took on Mont Tremblant’s Le Diable, Le Géant and the Le Maître de Mont-Tremblant golf courses. The game was followed by a cocktail reception and gala dinner at Tremblant’s luxurious Hotel Fairmount where the foundation project was revealed followed by a painting auction to raise even more funds.
The Grand Council (GCC)/ Cree Regional Authority’s (CRA) Eddie Diamond, who was one of the major event organizers for the tournament and is helping set up the CNAAF, explained that though the foundation was a long time coming, the benefit will help the foundation develop.
“The purpose of starting the whole thing was that we had a foundation previously but it never got off the ground. There were numerous attempts to get it going, and there were some people who were involved in the previous foundation but they had finished their mandate either as Grand Chief or Deputy Grand Chief or elected officials,” said Diamond.
The Cree Nation has seen various incarnations of foundations help Crees in difficult situations, such as the James Bay Foundation and the Tommy James Wapachee Foundation, but these organizations never manifested in the grand scale that the CRA desired. It wasn’t until last year that the CRA hired someone to gather all of the information about these previous organizations in order to include elements of them in the new foundation.
One year later, Diamond said it was decided to hold the fundraising event now as opposed to later so that they would have the necessary funding to help set up the new foundation legally and administratively.
“What we are going to do is give it a solid base first. By doing the fundraiser now it gives us a little more money which is better than working to set up the foundation without any money. So, the idea was to raise the funds first and then set up the foundation and do all of the legal stuff as we go along throughout the course of the year,” explained Diamond.
According to a PowerPoint presentation put on by the GCC/CRA and presented by Caroline Mark at the dinner: the Cree Nation Achievement Awards Foundation’s mission is to promote the excellence and contributions of Cree beneficiaries of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of all ages in areas of Leadership and Community Service, Corporate Community Involvement, Cree Language and Cultural knowledge, Women’s Contribution, Academic Excellence, and Sports and Arts. The CNAAF will also recognize the achievers of yesterday, today and tomorrow for their involvement in the past and continued development of the Cree Nation.
Mont Tremblant was chosen by the GCC/CRA because it was an ideal location to be able to bring out the Crees along with their business partners from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Though Diamond said they had looked at other venues in Val-d’Or as well as locations throughout Quebec and Ontario, Mont Tremblant was picked for the fundraiser because it was central to all of the Cree’s business clients, had a large enough facility to handle nearly 400 participants, and offered the Crees the best value for their dollar.
While the GCC/CRA managed to provide a bang-up golf tournament and gala, Diamond also said because the foundation is still in its early phases, no one should expect to see an award gala soon or even every year. A great deal of work still needs to be done before the big night will roll around and no decision has been made yet as to how often the event should happen.
“We still need to create a provisional board with directors who have yet to be chosen. Right now we have had some recommendations that have been made to use the executive of the council board as the provisional board to get everything going. Plus, it will take time for us to incorporate, to chose an executive director, to chose officers from within the organization or outside of the organization to be patrons of the foundation so that the work can continue,” said Diamond.
According to the CRA’s Judy Cooper who was also on the organizing committee for the tournament and the gala, upon first calculation, the event had raised nearly $170,000 for the new foundation and this was only an initial estimate.
“We (CRA/GCC) decided to host it at Mont Tremblant where everybody loves to golf – this place is fantastic! There are 369 people here for the tournament, Crees and people who work with the Cree world,” she said.
Relaxing by the bar during the cocktail, Canada’s first Aboriginal conductor and Brookfield Energy executive and founder of the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, John Kim Bell was all smiles about the founding of a Cree version of his foundation.
“It’s nice that they are doing it. It’s an effort of self-determination and it creates community pride. We always need to focus on achievement and celebrating it and then promoting it. The more you promote it, the more people want to achieve and the more people will have ideals and goals,” said Kim Bell.
Kim Bell also said this had been the first time in 25 years that he had golfed but that he had dusted off his clubs because he felt that the tournament was such a worthwhile event to support. As his swing improved throughout the day, he said he hoped that this event would happen annually.
The tournament’s special guest, former Montreal Canadiens’ right-winger Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer had spent the day on the course with Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and Eastmain Chief Rusty Cheezo and was now flanked in between the two during the gala dinner.
“I think it is great to be invited and I think it is a great community. We played golf today and we were very enthusiastic. I know that there is over 350 people here tonight so I am very much honored to be here,” said Cournoyer.
When asked about his day on the course with the Grand Chief, Cournoyer responded, “I think Chief Matthew Coon Come doesn’t work too hard because he’s a very good golfer so I am going to tell him to work a little bit more.” These words were spoken with a giggle and an impish grin intended at getting Coon Come’s goat.
As the Nation swooped in to get a quote from Cournoyer, standing right behind him was former Grand Chief Ted Moses.
“It is good to be here and that there is a good turnout. We will know tonight if the objective has been met but the fact that we have brought together people from the north and the south for a friendly game is great when it comes to building relationships,” said Moses.
“It is a good idea to honour Crees, especially honouring them while they are still alive. Why wait until they have passed away to honour them?” Moses added.
Speaking about the who’s who of Aboriginal leadership in Quebec, Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard was just steps away from Moses.
Smiling with delight after a successful day on the greens, Picard said, “It is awesome to be here. I met Matthew Coon Come back in Winnipeg and he said this was coming up. It is a first for the Grand Council and this cause is obviously a great one. To me it says that we have that space for our youth, and it is very important. This is very positive and we really need these kinds of events.”
Picard went on to say, “I golfed with Ted Moses, and we had a great day. I can’t remember the score but I think it was one or two over.”
While the Crees were filtering into the dining room, Cree artist Tim Whiskeychan had a display of his works set up in a corner where he was also creating a new work, a painting to be raffled off at the close of the gala.
“I am very happy to be here and take part in this special event. It is for the young people and I am for the young people to help them develop their skills, their talents and to explore. I was young once and at that time I had a father who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. I also teach the young people,” said Whiskeychan.
Showing off his canvas, a depiction the natural beauty of James Bay during early spring set in hues of pinks and oranges done in airbrushed acrylics, Whiskeychan said he would be painting in 10 geese to complete the creation, one to represent each Cree community.
“It has been quite a blast; I have been doing this for over 20 years now. I have never stopped as this is something I love to do,” said Whiskeychan.
While a bidding war ensued over the breathtaking work, it was Curtis Bosum who won out, acquiring the painting for a hefty $15,000.
Before the meal, Coon Come took to the stage to address the audience.
“I didn’t think that there would be this many people who would come to help us do some major fundraising in recognition of all of our Cree people who have contributed either through art, entertainment, politics, sports and recreation.
“There are Crees are among us who have done things that have never been done before, who have achieved great things but never got the recognition.
“I was teasing our guest, Yvan Cournoyer, that I have now adopted him, he is now Yvan Coon Come Cournoyer,” said Coon Come with a big smile.
Coon Come went on to joke about past golf tournaments and the success of the night. Referring back to Cournoyer, Coon Come could not resist the urge to take a poke at diehard Canadiens fan, Rusty Cheezo, who, we were told, was wearing Montreal Canadiens socks and had the team’s logo on his golf balls.
Calling on Cournoyer to take the stage, Coon Come also joked that the hockey star had an incredible collection of 10 Stanley Cup rings and that he was going to ask him for one.
Cournoyer spoke of the immense honour it was to be a special guest at the event and that with the incredible reception he had received, he could have easily modified the “CH” in the Canadians logo to spell “Cree.”
After making a comical and motivational address to the crowd, Cournoyer turned the microphone over to the audience so that they could ask questions.
One boy asked if he had been scared when he played his first professional game for the Canadiens, Cournoyer responded by saying, “Scared, why do you think I was skating so fast?”
Another funny moment came when he was asked if the Montreal Canadiens were the greatest team in hockey. Cournoyer responded, “That is not a question.”
He later said, “I told my wife that I feel 15 years younger when I put on a pair of skates. She said ‘Great, make sure that you put them on before you come to bed tonight.’”
During the meal, consultant Caroline Mark projected the foundation’s PowerPoint presentation to provide the patrons with information on what they were there to support.
She was honoured by the GCC/CRA for her work on the foundation immediately after the presentation with a gift and a huge bouquet of flowers.
Mark told the Nation, “It is pretty nice, especially because I get to share it with my husband and my three daughters who are here. To see the number of participants who are here playing golf and the major sponsors who have contributed is great to see. This is our first fundraising event and it has really been successful. I am really happy.”
CREECO president Jack Blacksmith was also on hand at the gala, having had a glorious day on the greens.
“We are sponsoring something that is going to work very well for the Cree Nation and it will recognize a lot of people later on. I think it is a great initiative,” said Blacksmith
When asked who he thought should be the first Crees honoured by the foundation, Blacksmith said there were too many to mention and that his list would be lengthy.
Though Bertie Wapachee kept a relatively low-key presence at the event, he said he was partially responsible for the foundation as it was something that he and Roy Neacappo had pitched back when he was Youth Grand Chief in 1996.
Wapachee said he was inspired to create a foundation for the Crees after attending the 1996 National Aboriginal Achievement Awards where former Grand Chief, Billy Diamond was honoured.
“The national event made me wonder why we didn’t do something like this to recognize our own people. We’ve seen this so many times in the past where we have a really hard time recognizing those who have made major contributions and are achievers. I wanted to see this changed,” said Wapachee.
While the foundation didn’t take off at the time even though the GCC liked the idea, Wapachee said it is a shame that it didn’t come sooner as he would have liked to have seen the late Paul Petawabano Sr. honoured before his passing.
Still, seeing so many participants on hand to raise money and tee off for something that he came up with made Wapachee proud and he was particularly pleased with the GCC/CRA to finally make it possible.
“Kudos to them for supporting this idea. I am looking forward to the first gala and seeing the first person receive an award. I am proud to see a small idea turn out to be something big and I think this is going to be around for a very long time,” said Wapachee.
During a quiet moment, the Nation also tracked down Coon Come to get his take on the evening.
“I think the Cree Nation has done what other nations take 100 years to do – we built our communities in 30 years. There are several people who are unsung heroes in regards to this, in the political arena, in the administrative arena, in arts and entertainment, and in the preservation of our culture and language.
“There is also the youth that have participated and promoted who we are and helped developed the Cree Nation. Certainly some of them are not leaders, some of them are just achievers who we need to recognize to be able to get the momentum going. There are role models out there, there are people who have done things that other people only dream of, who have dared to go outside of their comfort zone and participate and help develop the Cree Nation,” said Coon Come.
The ever-effervescent Grand Chief went on to say that growth within the nation is the dream that the GCC/CRA is looking to inspire amongst the people and that the future must also be kept in mind.
When asked about how they had managed to obtain Cournoyer for the event, Coon Come said, “One of the things we talked about is that Crees are Montreal Canadiens fans and I was well aware that Cournoyer is an ambassador of the Montreal Canadiens. He is also an inspirational speaker and very interactive.
“At 16, this guy went into hockey, so who better to have talk about role models and people who dare to dream.
“Talk to Rusty Cheezo, this guy wears Montreal Canadiens underwear for crying out loud!”
1. Women: Sophia Hester
2. Men: Jordan Bear
1. Women: Mary Carmen Vera
2. Men: Phil Lepage
1. Women: Anita Matoush
2. Men: Mike Gaul
Closest to the Pin
1. Women: Marie-Claude Houle
2. Men: Bob Desautels
1. Women: Cheryl Weapinicappo
2. Men: Robert Ottereyes
1. Women: Chantal Hamelin
2. Men: Nicholas Lauziere
Best Score of Each Golf Course
iPads: winners in bold for iPads
Le Diable: -8 (Abel Bosum, Curtis Bosum, Nathaniel Bosum, Alex Caron)
Le Maitre: -3 (Martin Tanguay, Roland Rocco, Carlo Cavalluri, Phil Lepage)
Le Geant: -10 (Don Nicholls, Michael Chettleburgh, William Saganash, Shaun Iserhoff)
Worst Score of Each Golf Course
Le Diable: +19 Bertie Wapachee, Vincent Buron, John Kim Bell,
Le Maitre: +? Marie Carmen Vera, Robert Turcotte, Cheryl Weapinicappo, Ghislain Charette
Le Geant: +5 Gilbert Georgekish, Remi Drouin, Denis Jobin, Michel Fortin
Mini Computer: Donated to Gorden Iserhoff, Youth singer
Home Theatre: Donated to Charlo Jolly, Youth Speaker
Winner: Sophie Bosum, 1 set for Montreal Canadiens
Winner: Eddie Diamond, 1 set for Ottawa Senators
Winner: Ginette – 1 set for Toronto Raptors
1 Callaway Women’s set: Laura Kitchen
3 Men’s Callaway Set: Jack Blacksmith
Men’s Taylor Set: Guy Labonte
Men’s Taylor Set: Asterie Aluisa
1 Mistissini Golf Bag: Marie-Claude Houle
Major Door Prizes
First Door Prize: Osprey Fishing Trip: Sylvain Faucher
Grand Door Prize: Carribean Trip for two: Titus Shecapio