Cheryl Tomatuk, 29, has a different take on the 10-year clause. As a member of Mo
Creebec, Tomatuk is well versed in the problems the clause has brought to the Mo
Creebec Council was created 27 years ago to address the needs of James Bay Crees who moved away from Quebec to Moose Factory. Some of the older generations were forced to attend the Horden Hall Residential School in Moose Factory and stayed there. Others went to the other side of the coast in search of jobs or a better life. These people, from places like Wemindji, Eastmain and Waskaganish, are called Mo
Creebec because of their continued cultural identification with the Quebec side of James Bay.
Creebec Council launched a lawsuit against Canada, Quebec and the Grand Council a few years back, claiming the 10-year clause to be unjust and unfair. They wanted to be considered a part of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee, despite their geographic reality. The lawsuit came after the CSB started to apply the clause, section 3.2.7 of the JBNQA, to the letter. Anyone living off the territory for 10 years was ruled ineligible for CSB funding.
As a result of the clause, all Mo
Creebec members have been denied Cree Health Board and Cree School Board funding because they didn’t meet the required six-month stay within the territory.
Because of their status, Mo
Creebec does not have the resources to build their own schools that teach Cree. Their economic reality is also much different than a federally recognized band under the Indian Act. They basically fend for themselves and are not given similar amounts of money to operate like other Native bands.
“When I initially pursued post-secondary education back in 1998, I was rejected by the CSB for not meeting the residency clause, which at the time was very ambiguous and inconsistent in each community,” Tomatuk told the Nation. “I decided at that time that I had no other choice but to eventually move into what was considered Cree territory, as outlined in the JBNQA, so that I could be eligible for the education programming dollars that I felt I was entitled to. This decision involved relocating my family, leaving my home, my family and friends, to move to a new community, which was Waskaganish at the time, where I knew very few people.”
Her educational background is impressive. She graduated from Trent University with a BA with honours in Native Studies.
She was working on her MA in Canadian Studies when she was called by Grand Chief Mathew Mukash to be his Executive Assistant at the Grand Council. She will be studying law at the University of Ottawa in 2009 once her contract with the Grand Council is finished.
Tomatuk, whose grandfather Samuel decided to make Moose Factory his home in 1958, said that uprooting her family to meet residency requirements was hard, but she had a vision for her future that included a solid education. Despite the challenges that come with being a single mother of a beautiful daughter who is now 10 years old, Tomatuk kept moving forward. She also gave birth to a baby girl this past summer and is now facing a new set of challenges.
“The 10-year clause is also more than just an infringement on the right to access inherent benefits and rights under the JBNQA, it also causes a social stigma for people that are required to relocate and move their lives and families to new communities, and I believe it creates issues of acceptance,” she said.
“People that make the decision to pursue different opportunities outside of the territory, whether it be for schooling, hockey or employment reasons to name a few, will be subject to the same section, and that is very restrictive and limiting.”
Her sacrifice to get this far is fairly rare. Many of Mo
Creebec’s members do not have her educational background. What should be seen as academic achievements to celebrate are often misconstrued by other Crees.
“In the past I know it has been perceived that people from Moose Factory are only there to get their funding, or are taking all the job opportunities when they arrive,” said Tomatuk. “Empathizing with the fact we had to leave our homes to access these rights is not on the forefront of most people’s perceptions. Individuals are just going through the loopholes required in order to access the same rights we all have as beneficiaries to the agreement. It just applies differently, in a discriminatory way, to people who live out of territory.”
Creebec members don’t even try to access the benefits they are entitled to, preferring instead to stay in Moose Factory.
“I have had family members receive offers of admission to post-secondary institutions but be rejected for post secondary funding because they live in Moose Factory, as it is not Cree territory,” she said. “Some of my family members were also affected by the Cree School Board’s interpretation of section 3.2.7 [of the JBNQA], whereby they met the residency clause and were approved for funding, but then cut off once CSB decided to change its criteria. The idea should be to educate as many of our people who show initiative.”
Despite it all, Tomatuk wouldn’t change a thing. She thinks that more information about their situation has to get out to the other communities so everyone can fully understand the difficulties that come with being a Mo
“I love Eeyou Istchee, I like working and living there and returning there as often as I can. But the world is big. There are so many opportunities out there and life is about following your dreams and ambitions. If my children choose to live outside of Eeyou Istchee, they will be Cree no matter where they choose to reside or wherever their path in life takes them.”