DSC_0928Regional leaders and business owners came out in force at the annual Business Exchange Day organized by the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance (SAENCAT) on November 28 at the Forestel Hotel in Val d’Or. Bringing together over 150 companies and organizations, this year’s edition of the Exchange is set to break records with an estimated value of contracts and agreements of $111 million.

Mayors, Chiefs, elected officials and business leaders representing the Jamesian, Cree and Inuit communities came together to build connections and grow their clientele. The annual event has been bringing together communities and businesses in a spirit of mutual cooperation and respect.

“Living off the land for thousands of years has taught the Cree the importance of partnerships,” said SAENCAT President Ted Moses. “There are many potential projects that are coming in the wake of the Northern Development.”

The development of the construction industry in the Cree communities has been given the spotlight, as maximizing the role of Cree labour in the construction and mining industries is one of SAENCAT’s main priorities. As the region is set for an unprecedented situation in 2014 with a new regional government, the cooperation between the diverse communities in the region is only set to grow and benefit the local population.

“All our local businesses, from construction to grocery to retail outlets, benefit when new business comes to our region,” Moses said in his opening address. “And with the creation of viable jobs, our local businesses thrive and our young people are encouraged to remain and to continue the work we have started.”

The development of local businesses is important for the improvement of services, such as health and education. “Health and economy go well together since economic development, education and work are important determinants for the sustainment of good health and well being,” said Bella Petawabano, President of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

DSC_0933Although contracts awarded by the Cree Health Board are given preferably to Cree companies, the diversity of needs in order to provide better services hinges on being able to develop new contacts.

Improvement of health services has played a huge role in the economic development of the region seeing $85 million in investments from 2007 until 2013, which includes the construction of five new clinics. As the region has been developing at a rapid pace, the need for an expanded health-service network played a major role at this year’s Exchange.
“I want you to reflect on a personal goal that I have and it is to develop our respective Nations; to ensure that youth and workers can rely on investments that will provide them with exceptional futures,” said Petawabano. “Collectively, we have the capacity and the opportunity to work together to achieve this goal.”

With over 700 business meetings taking place, the annual Business Exchange Day plays a major role as the catalyst for economic growth. Each new agreement signed and every contract awarded serve as the building blocks for a better and brighter future for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Jamesian communities. Ever since the creation of SAENCAT, the level of cooperation between the two communities has grown.

“Our goal is to enhance the economic environment, to create viable enterprises and to work interdependently with the enterprises of the region,” Moses said. “We want to be part of the greater community and, for this, we reach outward in partnership.”