Violet Pachano is a woman with two important firsts. She was the first women chief in the Cree Nation when Chisasibi residents elected her. Lately she became the Cree Nation’s first woman to be elected to a national position as Vice-Grand Chief of the Crees of James Bay in Northern Quebec. She officially took her position on September 16.

The Nation caught up with Pachano in Montreal just after she was being briefed on her new duties by former Vice-Grand Chief Kenny Blacksmith.

The Nation: Congratulations on winning your election. I noticed you were being briefed by Kenny Blacksmith. What do you think some of your immediate priorities are going to be?

Violet Pachano: First of all, I’ve been sort of out of the picture for about a year so I have to get caught up with what has been happening in the Cree world. Not that I was totally out of it but I was active on the local level. But as far as where the GCCQ was and is at, that I have to be briefed on. I have these briefing documents which I have to read.

But for the Cree people as a whole I believe that it’s very important to get back to the grassroots level. To get the community people involved and also the regional organizations have to start listening and hearing what the needs are in the communities. Having been in the communities as a Chief I realize we felt that our concerns and needs were not addressed even though as a Chief I used to bring up those concerns at a regional level. So I feel we have to get back to addressing the real needs of the communities.

How does it feel to be the first woman to attain the position of Deputy Grand Chief?

{Laughter)… I get asked that question quite frequently. But when I go into this, even when I ran as a Chief, it wasn’t so much because I was a woman, even though I feel women’s issues have to be addressed and heard more. I went into it because I felt that I had a lot to contribute to the Cree Nation because of my experience and the work I’ve done for the Crees. I feel that I have a lot to offer to the Cree people. So first and foremost I run as a person.

There is the fact that I’m a woman also and that there are very few women in leadership roles. There should be more. I think every Cree recognizes that women are a force to be reckoned with, especially when they have something to say. So I feel that by having a woman in a leadership role the issues and concerns of women will be more heightened. People will attend to them more and this is important because women are the backbone of a community. They are the ones who raise the children in the homes so I feel it’s very important for women to have representation in the Cree Nation’s leadership roles.

The last time The Nation interviewed you it was as Chief of Chisasibi and you mentioned that you had concerns about the GCCQ/CRA’s accountability. Now you’re one of the people in the driver’s seat, part of the…

Problem? (laughter)…

Precisely, so what are your plans to address this problem?

I still feel strongly about the need to make changes within the organization and the structure of the Cree entities. Especially the Cree Regional Authority. I was around when the CRA was set up ant I think I understood what it was intended for. A lot of its mandates have served their purpose. They’ve been done and the communities themselves have taken over a lot of the work. The CRA helped the communities organize themselves and I certainly feel that the communities are in a position to take control and do the work at a local level. I’m not saying to totally get rid of the CRA; it’s there for a purpose and still has a purpose in coordinating and keeping the Crees together.

Forestry seems to be the new focal point of Cree concerns. What are your views on this issue?

First of all, I think that the Crees have to assert their control in the Cree Territory. By that, Canada and especially on this issue the Quebec government have to understand that this is Cree Territory and that we should be part of the decision-making process as to what they want to do in our territory.

In forestry and the exploitation of other natural resources, we definitely need to have something in place where Crees have control of what happens in our territory. We see with the influx of people coming into our territory that they feel it’s open territory. Our trees are considered marketable. I understand the concerns of the southern communities. I see the result on the Matagami road. The forest companies are just bulldozing their way north, so there is a real concern.

I feel Crees have to be part of the development if we are going to allow development. I agree when the Crees say we want to be part of the development and we want to be part of that decision of when and where the development takes place. We can’t really expect to stop development. It’s part of the evolution of an area, a country.

What do you feel the biggest social problem is that the Crees have to deal with?

I can speak for the community of Chisasibi as an example. It’s a big change for our youth and the Crees. The fast pace of the changes to our lives.

The influence of things that we didn’t have to deal with in the past. It’s hard watching the youth adapt to the changes. A lot of the bad influences that lead to social problems are alcohol and drug-related. Youth want to experiment.

We, the parents and grandparents, have to try to bring the pride back to the people. When you have pride in yourself and in your people you’re on solid ground as to who and what you are. When you have this you’re on the right path and you’re less inclined to abuse. There’ll always be experimentation, you can’t deny that; but by giving youth a solid ground with Cree values and pride it will be easier to handle the problems.

When I’m in the communities and we talk about social problems this is a thing that comes up again and again, that loss of identity, so I feel that part of the solution lies in recovering the Cree identity.

Since you come from Chisasibi, I have to ask you about Radisson. The government of Quebec considers it a permanent town while the JBNQA says it is a temporary structure. What do you think?

We are always reminded by the general population that this was their understanding, that Radisson was temporary. This is the understanding of the people in Chisasibi that there would be no permanent town when LG-2 was built. Now we realize that people are trying to develop Radission into a larger community. We had people come to us, they were either the municipality or the corporation, who are really trying to promote tourism and outfitting.

They told us they’d even promote our culture for us. They would build a teepee for the tourists who came up to visit the dams. We of course said no. We’re quite capable of promoting our own culture.

It’s always been an issue with Chisasibi since it’s the closest town or place where people can get liquor. For myself and others this is one of the main reasons why we wouldn’t want a permanent town.

What are your thoughts on the recent negotiations with either Canada, Quebec or Hydro-Quebec?

Right now I don’t feel that anything has really happened with the negotiations with either the federal or provincial governments and Hydro-Quebec. But there should be ongoing discussion with all three so that they fulfill certain obligations that they have rising from the agreements they signed.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Yes, I’m looking forward to filling this position that I’ve been elected to. It’ll certainly be challenging and I’ll try. I’m not going to say I’ll do this and that, but that’ll I’ll try and do my best to do what I feel is best for the Crees.
I’d like to thank the people who have put their trust in me. I do my best to be prove capable of the mandate they have given me as Deputy Grand Chief. Meegwetch.