The campaign trail is open, and beginning to get beaten down by candidates’ feet. Anyone out and about in Mistissini last week may remember seeing Deputy Grand Chief nominee Kenny Loon swinging a softball bat and handing out flyers behind home plate. Meanwhile, Will Nicholls and his campaign manager have so far managed to hit five out nine communities with their poster campaign. Some nominees have said it is too early to campaign, or that they have been putting the word out whenever their regular schedule allows. Sooner than later, each of them will have to answer to the issues that have been gaining more notoriety than the candidates themselves.

This year’s election will no doubt bear the distinction of following the signing ofthe Agreement-in-Principal (AIP) with Quebec last February. In the 2001/2002Annual Report for the Cree Regional Authority (CRA) and the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), Grand Chief incumbent Ted Moses and challenger Matthew Mukash both came out in support of the agreement, though to varying degrees.

“On February 7, we changed Canada in the most powerful and fundamental way imaginable – not by winning a war, but by establishing a new relationship, a new appreciation of who the Cree people are,” said Moses in the annual report. “Agreeing to sign the Agreement-in-Principle was one of the most difficult decisions that the Cree leadership has had to make,” Mukash granted in his own annual report missive.

“It certainly can be said that our leadership had little choice but to promote the Agreement as it did.” The provincial government claims that the Cree population voted 70 per cent in support of the Agreement through a series of referendums held in each community, though by some accounts, the math seems generous.

“The Agreement was signed, and I was really concerned by the fact that only about 38 per cent of the total voting population voted in favour of the Agreement, and about 62 per cent voted against or did not vote,” said Mukash in an interview with the The Nation. “In the Cree world, when you don’t vote, it means you’re against something.” The Cree Nation remains deeply divided over the AIP, which in itselfhas become a key issue for some candidates. “We should be promoting unity through empowerment,” said Mukash. “People have to be aware of their rights – their social rights, their economic rights, their political rights – their right to have a say. Without unity, we will not able to achieve [self-determination].” “We need unity in the Cree Nation,” agreed deputy grand chief candidate Wll Nicholls. “The AIP has created two factions, and it seems like there’s no room for dissent. Fractionalization isn’t good for any nation.” Regardless of who holds the winning platform, there are still common issues on the table. Youth, unity, and women’s rights are just a few of the grassroots issues that are being championed across the board.

Lawyer and former Mistissini Chief Kenny Loon hasn’t heard any of the other candidates’ speeches or platforms, but suggested that “if you want to protect hunting and fishing rights, you need a lawyer to be your spokesman.” A diverse array of concerns was presented earlier this month at the Annual General Assembly of the Cree Regional Authority and the Grand Council of the Crees. Beyond big business and trap lines, however, is the question of political infrastructure – something that Nicholls hopes he will have the chance to put out for public consideration.

“The Annual General Assembly is something that’s supposed to give direction to the Grand Council,” Nicholls said. “In reality, it’s not really doing that, and that’s something I want to change. The people should have the voice, and the people should decide where we’re going, and I don’t feel that’s being done.” Despite numerous attempts, Ted Moses and deputy grand chief candidates Paul Gull and Alfred Loon could not be reached for this article.

Elections will take place Wednesday, August 28, from 8 am to 7 pm.

Did you Know?

Some facts to consider before a electing a new council: -Candidates only needs the support of one in ten Crees to get elected.

-The average voter turnout in the communities is 25 per cent.

-In 2002. the Grand Council ofthe Crees spent $2.5 million more than they actually had in their coffers.

-The Grand Council spent almost $6.5 million in legal fees last year.

-The combined salaries of the CRA come to $ 1,799,173.00 ($2.600,396.00 with travel allowance). -In the 1980s. a code of ethics was developed, but never implemented.