The James Bay Cultural Education Centre has a major communications problem and with obtaining support from the Cree leadership like many other Cree entities. In agreeing to the interview with The Nation (see The Nation, July 19), I had hoped to improve the situation, but I soon realized and expressed my concern several times during the interview that the focus would not be on the projects and programs or the Centre but that it would be a continuation of the smear campaign against Cree individuals.
I have spent much time trying to respond to the article without rancor or sounding too defeatist in order to correct some of the misinformation that is contained in the article. I felt that it did more harm than good and if the intent had been to solicit more information from the Centre, it could have been accomplished in a less destructive way. As someone told me, “There is no way you can respond to that kind of reporting without sounding defensive,” so here goes.
Allegation of financial irresponsibility: With a degree in finance, I can recognize when figures are being manipulated to make an organization or a person look bad. Revenues stated in the article are for a one-year period while the expenses are from a two- or three-year period. The international trips mentioned took place over several years—two trips were Cree School Board initiatives. The amount I allegedly received during one year was from three different sources.
When I expressed concern about the details that were being quoted to me over the phone, it was in relation to how that information was received. It indicated to me that either there was a serious breach of security within the CRA or the auditors’ organization or The Nation had been deliberately fed this information to discredit me personally. The auditors have done an investigation and if I were on the CRA/GCCQ Council/Board I would be seriously concerned about the security within the various offices.
Financial facts: The $200,000 that the article states I received was more in the neighbourhood of $140,000, with $42,000 of that from Centre funds. When I was offered the job as Director-General of the Cree School Board, I had commitments to the Centre until February 1993 so I offered to assume the position after that time; however I was told by the Chairman that I could still honour my commitments if I would agree to an earlier starting date.
As for my holding two positions during my term as Director-General, this would not have been the case had not the CRA/ GCCQ Council/Board abolished the Cultural budget in December 1992, including the salary for the person who would have replaced me when I resigned. When the whole budget was cut, I wanted to resign from the position of Director-General so I could continue to keep the Centre going, but I allowed myself to be talked into staying. With full knowledge of some people within the Cree School Board and the CRA/GCCQ, I continued working as Director of the Centre. I had no expectation of pay and it was only near the end of the following fiscal year that I received any compensation.
The article states that my salary was cut because the CRA decided I would not be able to handle both jobs. Ironically enough, I had submitted a letter of resignation to the CRA when I entered the Master’s program at the University of Ottawa. The letter never went to the Council/Board, but I was informed that my resignation was not accepted because I had proven that I could handle multiple responsibilities. In terms of time, the university program was more demanding than my job at the School Board and after six years of carrying two full loads as well as raising my children, it was nothing to work 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
The “severance” I received was not based on 12 years, but on six years. During the six years I spent in university, I did not have time to take vacations so I applied for my holiday pay when my salary was cut. After being refused I contacted a labour lawyer to determine if I had any rights. If I had no right to holiday pay, I was going to withdraw my request, but I was advised that I was entitled to much more than I was asking for. I accepted a much lesser amount without any “legal wrangling.”
Charges of nepotism: No mention was made of all of the other Crees that I hired over the last 14 years—researchers, translators, transcribers, local coordinators, interviewers, employees of local telecommunication societies to videotape Elders’ conferences, and artists. None of these short-term employees were related to me. These people were hired after the positions had first been approved by the Board and the Funding parties. Incidentally, when the Centre first started researching archives, I approached an experienced researcher but the cost of hiring this person would have been prohibitive, so I hired my daughter and others to work at half the wage of this person. I looked at the least costly approach to the research.
International travel: All travel was related to Native issues or conferences—the fur issue, World Indigenous Elders Conference, Native Healing Seminar, Native Education Conferences, World Indigenous Youth Conferences, Cultural and Language Conferences, James Bay Project Impacts, etc. Four trips were undertaken on behalf of the fur campaign, two of which I took part in at the request or the CRA. Funds were requested by the CRA and the budgets for these trips were approved by the funding parties. Other trips mentioned in the article were undertaken on invitation from the organizers. Special requests in public meetings were made to funding parties for these trips and no trips were undertaken if there was no approval. (Each year the Centre has received invitations from all over the world, including Russia and China, to talk about culture and Cree issues, but 90 per cent of these invitations were not accepted.)
There was nothing secret about these trips. Numerous radio reports were made after each trip: We explained who was involved, the purpose of the conference and where it had taken place. I remember in particular the New Zealand trip where both Dianne Reid and Robbie Matthew reported on separate CBC North shows, all three of us reported on separate occasions on the Mistissini regional station and Robbie Matthew reported on the local Chisasibi station. Some of these trips were even included in the annual reports of the CRA/GCCQ and reported at CRA/GCCQ Annual General Assemblies and Cree Elders/Youth Conferences. The Annual General Assemblies were viewed as “members’ meetings” since all members of the Centre were present at these assemblies.
Supplying public information: the Centre has used various media to get public input and interest, but if people wish not to remember the information supplied, that is not the problem of the Centre. (I myself do not know what most of the Cree entities are doing but that is not their fault since they also produce annual reports and do interviews on local, regional and the CBC North stations.) Ironically there had been agreement within the Centre to add The Nation to our list of media and to prepare some articles on what the Centre has done throughout the years and to report on the recent changes within the organization. The first of these reports were to be submitted in September.
Through the efforts of Dianne Reid and myself, a task force on culture was established several years ago. We solicited representatives from each of the entities involved in culture or language development—the Cree Trappers’ Association, Cree School Broad, Cree Regional Authority, Cree Communications Society, the Centre, Elders and several local cultural coordinators. The purpose of this task force was to coordinate cultural programs and eventually to combine financial and human resources to provide better cultural services to the Crees.
When the resolution was passed at a CRA/GCCQ Annual General Assembly to move the Centre to Ouje-Bougoumou, even though construction for the new town had not even begun, we invited the Chief of that community to work with us. This group became the working group for the new Cultural Institute that is planned for that community. (It was after public reports were made about the “Aanischaaukimikw” Project—Cultural Institute—that there was total confusion. I made many public explanations that the Institute was a plan that had not yet been realized; it was to be a facility, while the Centre was a legal entity that had been established years before.) This group was also appointed by the CRA/GCCQ Council/ Board in December to sit as the interim Board for the Centre.
Until their resignation at the end of 1995, the Board of the Centre was composed of the same people as the Council/Board of the Cree Regional Authority/Grand Council of the Crees (of Quebec). Each December (including December 1995), the Centre had to present not only its detailed budget but a description of the projects and programs for the next fiscal year to this Board. Once the submission was approved, it went to the funding parties (Indian Affairs and the Board of Compensation) for review, approval and funding. Since these were public presentations, any interested party could have obtained all information presented at these meetings.
Once all the approvals and funding had been secured, it was my job to ensure that the projects were implemented. According to the funding agreement with Indian Affairs, any reallocation of funds has to be within approved projects, but if any new projects are submitted during the fiscal year, approval has to be obtained from the department. With the Board of Compensation, approval must be granted before there can be any changes to the budgets.
Our advisors have always been the Cree Elders and it is with their guidance that we have tried to set a new direction for the Centre. The Elders are the experts in culture and language. It is they who advised us to respect the resolution to move the Centre to Ouje-Bougoumou and to wait until the Cultural Institute was built before moving. It was they who refused our resignations in April when I wished to resign as Director and the interim Board wanted a permanent board elected. It was they who encouraged us to continue working on behalf of all the Cree people.
It has taken a heavy toll on me emotionally, physically and mentally trying to respect the wishes of the Elders but I have become a stronger person spiritually. I look forward to the day when the Centre is established in Ouje-Bougoumou so I can take advantage of a well-deserved rest and work on my own cultural and spiritual development. In the meantime, my wish is that we all work together cooperatively to preserve and maintain our culture.