Oujé-Bougoumou hosted this year’s Grand Council/Cree Nation Government Annual General Assembly in a beautiful setting marred only by the on-and-off rain. More than a few members thought we would be flooded out but thanks to quick thinking, plastic and sand banks it didn’t happen. Numerous local entrepreneurs provided home-cooked country food for those interested. I was one of those with an interest. Moose and goose meals hit the spot.
The size of the tent had many organizations scrambling for a place to set up their displays, but it all worked out in the end. On this, noted NDP MP Romeo Saganash, “Having participated in these assemblies I am always amazed at how often certain issues always come back.”
Saganash remembers his first job with the Grand Council back in 1981, when the late Billy Diamond hired him to organize the AGA. “So I’ve seen the same issues come back,” he said. Some of these have been resolved but others are still a part of the Cree reality, such as lack of housing and the challenges of education.
“Although the Cree Nation is one of the most developed in this country, we still have huge challenges,” said Saganash. “One of the things we have to start thinking about as a Nation is to find ways and means to implement some of the decisions we make at general assemblies.”
Every AGA is different, but they all have their ups and downs with a little controversy thrown in for good measure.
First the ups. The Cree Nation Government (CNG) and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services (CHB) signed a 20-year deal for the creation and operation of two women’s shelters. CHB Chair Bella Petawabano-Moses called it a bittersweet moment. She was happy it was finally happening but sad that there is such a need.
Two young Crees from Mistissini spent five days walking from their community to Oujé-Bougoumou to promote healthy living through traditional activities. They hunted and gathered their own food along the way using only an axe to gather wood for heating and cooking. They said activities like this help combat the many chronic diseases Crees are experiencing these days.
Now the controversies. One would have expected protestors to make an appearance over the Baril-Moses Agreement but that didn’t happen, as it did in Waswanipi and Quebec City. Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come mentioned the protests prompted him to visit Waswanipi, where he met with the chief, council and the affected trappers.
“When we presented the Baril-Moses case they fully understood,” said Coon Come. “As a matter of fact, the trappers said now [they] understand that it was not a closed door. That there’s an opportunity here and we are willing to work. and actually directed their chief and council to work with us to try to extend the protected areas. In the protected areas, there would be no mining or forestry.”
Perhaps the biggest controversy involved the Board of Compensation (BOC), CreeCo and Jack Blacksmith. It started when Gordon Blueboy complained to delegates that certain elected board members of the BOC received dividends.
“With that there was a list of employees of CreeCo and their affiliates that received the so-called dividends. They called them dividends, not bonuses. I had an issue with that because dividends are usually for shareholders. I found it odd to call them dividends when they aren’t the actual shareholders,” said Blueboy.
He said the CNG’s legal counsel stated that it was illegal for them to receive dividends, since elected officials to a public body are not entitled to dividends. In fact, in one case the British Columbia Supreme Court ordered band councillors there to pay back dividends they had received.
Meanwhile, another band out west is taking the federal government to court over Canada’s Transparency Act for First Nations, arguing that they get all their operational money from their businesses and that releasing that information would harm their ability to do business.
“Personally I feel we have to show transparency and accountability to our people,” Blueboy said. “The Cree people need to know what takes place in our Cree entities that we own. I feel our people have the right to know everything about our companies.”
He said the documents showed the lowest amount paid out to a director was $15,000 and the highest was $60,000.
BOC Chair Jack Blacksmith told the Nation he felt that “people are asking the right questions in terms of their investment because they are in charge of those monies.” He said the monies flowed from CreeCo to the BOC and then to the communities.
Asked about his salary, Blacksmith replied, “I told them what my salary was. I told them how many years I have been there. I’ve been chairman of the (BOC) for about 12 or 13 years and on top of that a couple of years as the deputy. It’s been quite an experience to run this organization. I’m glad to see this organization where it is and I hope that people see I am part of that success.”
Blacksmith felt he was targeted, as the salary questions were very personal. “With the BOC there is no problem mentioning salary levels, but CreeCo is a different animal altogether. It’s a business-oriented company and I know the people own that company. At the end of the day, I report to the people on how much this company makes and I don’t know if I should open up as to what my salary is there. I get paid from the BOC and CreeCo. I was a bit of a target in terms of the situation.”
Coon Come was quick to defend Blueboy. “That was very unfortunate that he [Blacksmith] said that. I thought it was very condescending. I thought it was uncalled for Jack to put Gordon in a situation where he could be embarrassed.”
Coon Come said the issue is one of transparency. “We believe, the members believe, that the chairman of the BOC should declare his salary to the public,” the Grand Chief insisted. “There’s a strong feeling [at the AGA] that the elected officials to the BOC should not receive any form of dividends… The issue is the chairman and the elected officials who are receiving a dividend are sitting on these boards (CreeCo). When they are sitting on these boards elected officials need to be transparent and release that information to the public.”
Blacksmith feels this goes back to the plans to absorb CreeCo into the Cree Development Corporation (CDC). “At the BOC, we have never opposed the CDC,” he said in his own defence. “As a matter of fact, I was one of the first ones to work with two other people who put a proposition together for the CNG to consider back a few years ago.”
Blacksmith acknowledged allegations being made that the BOC is holding up the merger with the CDC.
“I don’t believe that at all,” he said. “There are monies that are made available already to CDC. I look at the financial statements of the CNG and there’s approximately $6.9 million indicated in different financial statements sitting there for the CDC. Why can’t you start CDC based on those amounts and work towards a better financial situation for the future? You can’t sit back and say you don’t have the money.”
A complete list of the resolutions adapted at this year’s Annual General Assembly:
Resolution: Incentives paid by the Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Corporation (CREECO)
WHEREAS community members are elected through local elections to represent their community at the Cree Nation Government Board of Compensation (BOC) and act as public elected officials;
WHEREAS the BOC members are only entitled to receive Board fees as elected officials as ratified at a meeting of the members of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government Annual General Assembly currently established at the same rate as the Board/ Council of the GCC(EI)/CNG;
WHEREAS the BOC appoint from its own membership through and internal election to the Board of Directors on CREECO, its wholly owned subsidiary.
WHEREAS this appointment or election to the Board of Directors of CREECO does not change the public elected official nature of these individuals nor their obligations to the Cree Nation to manage the public funds and assets of the Cree Nation a transparent manner for the benefit of the Cree Nation;
WHEREAS the Cree Nation Government (CNG) has been made aware that the Board of Directors of CREECO and its employees have received incentive payments;
WHEREAS the Board of Directors of CREECO have not disclosed the policy, program or resolution authorizing the amounts paid as incentives to the board members and employees, to the BOC as shareholders or to the Cree Nation for whose benefit the assets and funds are to be administered;
IT IS RESOLVED
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly demand that the Board of Directors of CREECO disclose the entire amounts and the rational for these amounts paid as incentives to its employees as well as the names of the individuals who received such amounts, further, that the incentive policy for the employees of CREECO be disclosed to the Board of Compensation and to the Cree Nation Government;
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly demand that the Board of Directors of CREECO disclose the entire and the rational of the amounts paid as incentives to its Board members and as well as the names of the individuals who received such amounts.
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly that demand that the Board of Directors of CREECO cease this apparently undocumented practice of incentive payments to its Board of Directors and to develop a policy for incentive payments to its employees, that this policy be based on company performance and that this policy by made public to the CNG.
Resolution 2015-10: Access to Nutritious Foods
WHEREAS the prevalence of chronic diseases is high in Eeyou Istchee;
WHEREAS the rate of food insecurity is high in Eeyou Istchee;
WHEREAS the proportion low-income families is high in Eeyou Istchee;
WHEREAS access to affordable nutritious foods is essential to promote health, attain food security and prevent chronic diseases;
WHEREAS the CBHSSJB’s project on access to nutritious foods in the stores of Eeyou Istchee showed that
1) The cost of basic nutritious foods is higher in Eeyou Istchee than in any other studied region of Quebec;
2) Nutritious food choices are limited in certain communities;
3) Having access to a variety of low-cost nutritious foods is difficult, especially in smaller stores; and
4) Eating well seems to be out of reach for low-income and single-parent families. The cost of the Nutritious Food Basket represents about 80% of the revenue of low-income families;
WHEREAS the CNG recognizes that, as a nation, we need to ensure that nutritious foods are available and affordable to all Eeyou families;
WHEREAS the issue of access to nutritious foods in Eeyou Istchee is complex and the collaboration of multiple local, regional, provincial and national stakeholders is required to improve access to nutritious foods;
WHEREAS store managers of Eeyou Istchee have provided numerous solutions to improve access to nutritious foods in our stores, including:
1) the increase of demand by promoting healthy food choices to customers
2) the improvement of store size, equipment and layout
3) the adoption of management practices that support healthy and affordable food choices
4) the supply of affordable nutritious foods
5) the reduction of the impact of transportation costs on the price of nutritious foods;
WHEREAS the CNG and CBHSSJB are committed to improve access to nutritious foods for the families of Eeyou Istchee in order to improve their health and well-being;
BE IT RESOLVED:
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly request that the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government support the CBHSSJB in its efforts to improve access to nutritious foods for families of Eeyou Istchee;
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly recommend the establishment of a joint CNG-CBHSSJB, committee be formed to address the issues related to access to nutritious foods in Eeyou Istchee;
CREE NATION GOVERNMENT
Resolution: Creation of a New Region of the Commission de la Construction du Québec and Adaptations Corresponding to the Realities of Eeyou Istchee James Bay
WHEREAS the Regime of the Commission de la Construction du Québec (hereinafter referred to as “CCQ”) requires adaptations to ensure that Cree and citizens of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region benefit from the CCQ Regime and participate in the construction industry, in manner that does not discriminate against the region;
WH EREAS the Crees and Jamesiens and the CCQ have undertaken negotiations on the application of the CCQ Regime in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region and identified specific issues to be addressed;
WHEREAS a James Bay Eeyou Istchee Regional Government has passed a Resolution supporting the creation of a new CCQ region which consolidates the Cree communities of Eeyou Istchee in to one region with the necessary adaptations to ensure that the Cree and citizens of the regime becoming meaningful participants in the CCQ regime and the construction industry in Quebec as a whole;
IT IS RESOLVED:
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly support the establishment of one region for Eeyou Istchee to facilitate the unity of the Cree Nation with the necessary adaptations to ensure that the Cree can participate in the CCQ regime and construction industry in a meaningful way free from discrimination.
Resolution: Recommendations of the Federal Truth and Reconciliation
WHEREAS the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was created with the goals to:
(a) Acknowledge Residential School experiences, impacts and consequences;
(b) Provide a holistic, culturally appropriate and safe setting for former students, their families and communities as they come forward to the Commission;
(c) Witness, support, promote and facilitate truth and reconciliation events at both the national and community levels;
(d) Promote awareness and public education of Canadians about the IRS system and its impacts;
(e) Identify sources and create as complete an historical record as possible of the IRS system and legacy. The record shall be preserved and made accessible to the public for future study and use;
(f) Produce and submit to the Parties of the Agreement a report including recommendations to the Government of Canada concerning the IRS system and experience including: the history, purpose, operation and supervision of the IRS system, the effect and consequences of IRS (including systemic harms, intergenerational consequences and the impact on human dignity) and the ongoing legacy of the residential schools;
(g) Support commemoration of former Indian Residential School students and their families in accordance with the Commemoration Policy Directive;
WHEREAS the Truth and Reconciliation released its final report on June 2, 2015 after six (6) years of deliberation and contains numerous recommendations and actions related to the goals for which it was created;
IT IS RESOLVED
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly do not accept that the Government of Canada is not required or obligated to respond or address any of the recommendations or imperatives identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada;
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly hereby recommend that the Cree Nation Government undertake a review of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report to identify those measures that are essential to the well-being or restoration of the Cree Nation and use all methods possible to ensure that the Government of Canada is held accountable for the recommendations and findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Resolution: Broadback River Watershed Protected Area
WHEREAS the Cree Nation Government, local governments of Eeyou Istchee has identified areas that they wanted to be afforded special status such as “Protected Area” status;
WHEREAS the Cree Nation Government and the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi have identified an area called the “Broadback River Watershed” which they have worked to have categorized as a protected area due to its importance as a one of the few remaining mixed forests in Eeyou Istchee and is critical for the survival of the woodland caribou;
WHEREAS the Cree Nation Government has succeed in the recent resolution to the Baril-Moses Agreement Dispute to secure over 9,000 square kilometres as protected areas and establish other forums where the Cree Nation may continue its efforts to expand the amount of protected areas in Eeyou Istchee;
IT IS RESOLVED
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly recommended to the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government to continue using all its efforts in coordination with the affected communities, such as the Waswanipi First Nation, to have the “Broadback River Watershed” or other areas identified by the other communities of Eeyou Istchee, designated as a protected area.
Resolution: Management of Contracts and Business Opportunities Related in Eeyou Istchee
WHEREAS Cree entrepreneurs of Eeyou Istchee continue facing challenges and obstacles when trying to access contracts or other business opportunities;
WHEREAS Section 28 of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement contains specific provisions related to the legal requirement to adapt regimes or procurement procedures to favor local entrepreneurs, for governments from the local, regional, provincial and federal level and their agencies, including the Cree School Board and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay;
WHEREAS the Cree Nation Government through the New Relationship Agreement Between the Government of Quebec and the Crees of Quebec ad the New Relationship Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Crees of Eeyou Istchee determines how to allocate and manage the great majority of funds that are used for infrastructure and public works and is therefore in position to take the lead by example on how Section 28 of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement should interpreted;
IT IS RESOLVED
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly hereby supports and recommends the initiative of the Cree Nation Government to negotiate an Agreement, primarily with all the Communities of Eeyou Istchee, on how as a governments, funds should be managed to ensure the maximization of funds for the benefit of the Cree Nation and then ensure access to business opportunities for legitimate Cree enterprises;
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly requires that the Cree Nation Government specifically report at the 42nd/39th Annual General Assembly on all efforts taken to address the proper implementation of Section 28 as it pertains to contracts and business opportunities for Cree entrepreneurs.
Resolution: Salary of the Chairperson of the Cree Nation Government Board of Compensation
WHEREAS the heads of the Cree Nation Government and the Cree Nation Government Board of Compensation are public elected officials of the Cree Nation Government and the Grand Chief/Chairperson, Deputy Grand Chief/Vice-Chairperson of the Cree Nation Government have revealed their salaries through the tabling of financial statements at the 2014/2015 Annual General Assembly of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government;
WHEREAS the Chairperson of the BOC has released his salary for the 2014/2015 fiscal year as one hundred and ninety seven thousand ($197,000.00);
IT IS RESOLVED
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly recognize and confirm the salary of the Chairperson of the Cree Nation Government shall not exceed one hundred and ninety seven thousand ($197,000.00);
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly quest that the Chairperson of the Cree Nation Government also reveal the remuneration for the office in the preceding four (4) years.
Resolution: Establishment of Cree Treatment Centres
WHEREAS the Crees at times need treatment and healing from alcohol and drug abuse or other social and personal issues;
WHEREAS Crees, some who are unilingual, who seek treatment must leave their communities for other locations where the Cree language and culture is not prevalent.
IT IS RESOLVED
THAT the delegates of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Nation Government 41st/38th Annual General Assembly recommend that the Cree Nation Government and Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay make efforts to build a Treatment Centre in Cree territory and to be operated and maintained in the Cree language and where Cree culture will be a factor in the treatment.