I was already at work, in search of material, a subject, some serious insider info and in need of a cool, cheap drink when I bumped into a Cree politician at a Native bar late at night in downtown Montreal. It’s the kind of bar where the two-piece band will dedicate a song like Folsom Prison Blues to those “who just got out of jail.”
I had heard from a reliable source that former national chief, Dr. Matthew Coon Come, is bored and is dropping out of Bible college… and seriously eyeing the office of Cree Grand Chief. Speculation that this might just happen has been going around ever since Phil Fontaine gave Coon Come a national ass whuppin. Don’t you just love Native politics?
Mr. X denied any knowledge of whether Mr. Coon Come was actually running for Grand Chief against Dr. Moses this coming fall. I prodded and successfully had him confess that if that were the case, he would vote for Moses.
Why? I asked dumbfounded. A career politico, he ducked and weaved for an instant until I reminded him it was off the record. “Moses,” he said. “He’s more intelligent. Have you ever seen Coon Come being asked an impromptu question by reporters without the help of consultants? He fumbles.”
I was astonished. I’d always figured Coon Come to be quicker, more secure, confident and savvy politically than the seemingly uncouth and unsophisticated Moses. Here was this guy, a Cree player for many years, in the know, well liked and trusted by the old boys’ network, telling me that Coon Come was a mere Muppet. That he was only spouting phrases and lines supplied by the very Grand… Council’s hired guns. I, of course, hid the shock and awe I felt and changed the subject even as I nodded in agreement. The waitress came by our table for last call. I hesitated, hoping he’d offer to pay for a round. But he ordered a beer only for himself. All the respect he’d earned as a result of our little exchange went poof!
Montreal, my town, reeks of Cree politicians. Walk down St. Catherine Street and you’ll know they are there, blocks ahead of you, by spotting the bulge in the back pocket. Every other meeting involving important and not-so-important Cree issues convenes here. Lowly hotel staff are on a chummy first-name basis with many a Cree player. Downtown restaurants depend and survive on Cree appetites. Seedy looking characters deliver mysterious packages late at night to expensive hotel suites. Bored yet porn-worthy barmaids perk up and smile widely when they espy a powerful, moneyed and over-tipping Cree regular strutting into their bar.
“Mr. This. Mr. That. Chief So and So! It’s sooooo good to see you again. Will it be the usual then? And how, pray tell, are the wife and kids in James Bay? They are in James Bay, right?”
Meanwhile, at a lesser, grungier venue down the street, a chief from the Attikamek or the Algonquin nation stands in line at the coat check mentally calculating his pittance of a per diem, tip on a pitcher of beer and the inevitable lonely cab ride to some cheap motel. Unnoticed, forgotten and ignored by the big-haired blonde he’s entrusted his jacket with. “And you are? Oh right. That’ll be $20, sir.”
“Maudite Crisse!” he mutters as he nurses his cheap warm beer.
The Cree Nation is both blessed, and cursed, with colorful, charismatic and of course allegedly corrupt politicians aplenty. It comes with the territory. Millions in the accounts and millions more practically guaranteed by the Crown and Quebec’s equivalent. Rare is the Cree who won’t succumb to power’s temptations and pleasures. It might be a scientific fact. There should be a study done.
Anyway, the fact that the incorruptible Coon Come flubs his lines when questioned by reporters won’t matter to the Cree electorate. They don’t care for things like that. What matters to them is which candidate looks good, sounds great on the radio and has a sterling reputation. Cree journalists, with few exceptions, don’t always ask the tough questions anyway.
He would be a tough challenger for Moses, who probably lies awake at night hoping and praying that Coon Come earns his divinity doctorate and becomes a preacher in Mistissini instead. Saving souls instead of saving per diems. Come to think of it, he probably hopes and prays that Mukash and Gull also enter the fray, thereby splitting the vote and giving him a bigger chance of winning. I foresee a vicious four-way battle this fall. Ass whuppins galore for all of us to enjoy. Let the games begin.
And that, until the next time, is the last line.