The noted author and journalist Michael Connelly once said, “A newspaper is the centre of a community, it’s one of the tent poles of the community, and that’s not going to be replaced by Web sites and blogs.”
A Cree teepee has many poles and the Nation is proud to have served as one of these essential supports for our common home over the past 20 years.
This milestone is a time for celebration but also for reflection. In life we make many critical decisions; one of the most important is to choose what will become our true passion for work and service during the productive years of our lives.
This determines our legacy. Is it an accident that the Nation has survived for 20 years? Luck may have played a role, but passion and commitment is a much larger part of the story.
In November 1993, we embarked on this adventure with no business plan and almost no financial resources. We made up for these deficits with a surplus of youthful energy and idealism. Ernest Webb said back then that we shouldn’t be worried about the future, we would simply push this project as far as we would. I don’t think any of us ever expected the magazine to last 10 years, much less 20. Every issue that made it to the printer and on to the communities during those first weeks represented a victory when the odds were stacked so high against the prospect of the Nation’s survival.
I must give credit where credit is due: the desire and support of the Cree people of James Bay ensured though that our haphazard business birth was nurtured to the point at which we could finally stand on our own. Since then, our baby has grown up, matured and given birth to several enterprising and successful offspring.
We recognized the power of the printed word to present news, opinions, features and advertising. More than that, it became a potent political force that has helped create cohesion between the far-flung communities of the James Bay Cree. The humble little newsmagazine became a vehicle for the Cree to speak to each other, to debate, to disagree and to grow together as a family.
The cover of our inaugural issue featured Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. Once again the Grand Chief two decades later, Coon Come speaks with surprising candour in a forthcoming state of the Cree Nation interview, in which he is more open than anyone expected.
The Nation has published sad stories, struggles-to-overcome-and-survive stories, success stories, first-goose stories, stories about the land, on business, social conditions, role models, community events and so much more. Many of those stories were a result of people’s willingness to share their stories, news tips and lives with us and the Cree Nation as a whole.
For all of us at the Nation we saw that writing those stories carried an obligation that required trust, integrity, reliability and morals. At times the Nation was edgy but as Mark Twain stated in an 1889 interview by London’s Pall Mall Gazette, “We are also told that our newspapers are irreverent, coarse, vulgar and ribald. I hope that this irreverence will last forever; that we shall always show irreverence for royalties and titled creatures born into privilege, and all that class which take their title from anything but merit.”
The Nation has matured in the past 20 years. It was and still is a learning experience from the first days to now. Neil Diamond, Ernie and myself had never written news and had to learn on the run. Fortunately, we had help in the form of Catherine Bainbridge, who had worked at the Winnipeg Free Press, and from seasoned journalist Alex Roslin. Later Lyle Stewart would become a copy editor and we learnt even more from this harsh taskmaster, while Martin Siberok now also helps us make sense in our copy.
Our many staff members have been among the best, whether as journalists, graphic designers, salespeople, accountants or production coordinators. There are too many to mention but as a result of their dedication to the Cree readers over the past 20 years the Nation has gained respect and attention not only in Eeyou Istchee but worldwide. We even have readers in Outer Mongolia, South America, Japan, Europe, Australia and the US.
I’m not predicting the future, but I am convinced that the Nation has a long and important future ahead of it: especially if we keep its various facets – a mixture of professionalism, friendship, fun and, above all, the desire to give something back to the Cree people – the Nation that inspired us to create the Nation.