The people of MoCreebec have been called outsiders, left out of numerous elections for their own Grand Chief for years and kicked around by Ottawa and Quebec. Now they want everyone in Eeyou Istchee to know how they feel about it all.
Their bloodlines run through the communities of Wemindji, Waskaganish and Eastmain. And Nemaska, Chisasibi and Waswanipi.
MoCreebec Grand Chief Randy Kapashesit is still fuming about the last election three years ago when there was no ballot box in his community for Eeyouch to vote.
“Initially the Chief Electoral Officer wanted to limit the number of voters here,” he said. “Our first battle was trying to make sure we were treated equally. In other words all beneficiaries should be allowed to vote here as opposed to limiting it to MoCreebec members only.”
It was nice to be able to vote, but they didn’t get there without a fight.
In May of 2004, the MoCreebec Council of the Cree backed a court case by 13 of its members seeking more support for health, education and social services from both levels of government and the Grand Council of the Crees.
The case attacks section 3.2.7 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which states in part:
“In the event a person…is absent from the territory during ten consecutive years and is domiciled outside the territory, such person shall not be entitled to exercise his rights or receive benefits under the Agreement.”
“The fact of the matter is that Canada, Quebec and the Grand Council knew they were in a court proceeding and to ignore a voting station here wouldn’t have been a wise thing to do,” said Kapashesit.
“I would presume that if we didn’t launch any legal challenge that we’d be on the outside looking in again this election,” he said.
Kapashesit said the legal challenge was a way to draw attention to the fact that there are people living there who have rights and unresolved issues.
“For too long now we’ve been left out of the loop,” said the Chief. “Because of our experience last time around, the rules of the election became the most important topic even before we could think about who the candidates were.”
In an article that appeared in the Nation three years ago, Grand Council Executive Director Bill Namagoose complained that the MoCreebec people should have been diligent enough to make sure they were able to vote.
“Voters have an obligation to be proactive,” Namagoose said. “They should have notified us when the election notices were posted.”
Kapashesit did just that. He told the Nation that he sent a letter to John Paul Murdoch in July, requesting details about many things, including specific rules on the elections. He never received a response.
“We also raised the question with the Chief Electoral Officer but we never got any response as well. You would think that a person who’s a beneficiary requesting information would get a timely response and the details they were hoping to receive.”
The Chief of MoCreebec also said he was disappointed that only two (Mukash and Paul Gull) of the four candidates running for Grand Chief in the first round of elections bothered to visit them.
“The candidates that came showed respect to the voters here,” he said. “That scored points for both candidates.”
“It was a good feeling to finally be able to vote for the first time in many years,” said Allan Jolly, one of the MoCreebec councilors.
Jolly is one of many people in Moose Factory/Moosonee who feel that a changing of the guard is a good thing. The lack of support from the Grand Council under Ted Moses’ leadership led some of the MoCreebec people to become disillusioned.
“We think a new Grand Chief is for the better for MoCreebec at this point in time,” he said. “It hopefully opens the door to begin a dialogue between the Grand Council and MoCreebec. We’re optimistic that the new leadership will pave the way for that to happen, it’s been a long time coming.”
Many people of MoCreebec status starting migrating or moving away from the territory of their ancestors before the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed. Once it came time to sign it, Jolly said, they were basically left out in the cold and neither the Canadian nor the provincial governments of Ontario or Quebec wanted to take responsibility for their education, health and social well being.
“We are in the same boat as the people of Washaw Sibi, but they at least have observer status within the Grand Council. We don’t,” said Jolly.
Jolly says even though they are technically out of the territorial limits of Eeyou Istchee, they are still connected to it spiritually.
“We always felt that we were part of the Cree Nation, more so than anything else. Rather than being native Canadians or Canadian Natives, we made up our minds way back when that we’re very much a part of the Cree Nation,” said Jolly, whose family originates from Waskaganish, Waswanipi and Nemaska.
The Corbiere decision in 1999 stated that off-reserve Natives had the right to vote and should be afforded the opportunity. Having that voice heard and being able to cast their vote in their own community has, until now, eluded them however.
“We were Cree and there were no real questions about it,” said Jolly. “It’s only later on in years, in the mid 1970s, based on the kind of treatment we were getting by both levels of government, neither of which wanted to take responsibility for our needs as a people did we start to feel alienated. It was only then that we started asking ourselves where do we really belong?
“We had social needs such as housing and health needs, but we kept running into road blocks.”
Jolly stressed that his people have been kicked around quite a bit over the years.
“We were status Indians under the Indian Act, but we were left out of the JBNQA process,” he fumed. “We didn’t know very much about that final agreement, even though it affected us and we were written into it.
“Our people were in an identity crisis. In one sense even the local First Nation here was making things hard for us because they perceived us as outsiders. I think because of this, our people started to think very hard about where they fit in.”
But now that Matthew Mukash has been elected, the MoCreebec people have a different outlook on things.
“I certainly liked his approach where he said he’s a leader that’s going to listen,” said Jolly. “We’ve had the same guys in there (the Grand Council) that have been there for a long time and I think they got used to doing things a certain way. Sometimes without knowing it we get stuck in a certain rut, I’m the same way.”
MoCreebec councilor Grace Delaney is also happy Mukash is the new Grand Chief. “I’m much more hopeful and confident that we will have our issues addressed. If you’re a leader of a Nation I think you should try to see all your people and I think that’s what he did.”