The debate over reorganizing the Cree Regional Authority has taken a new turn.
The Waskaganish First Nation has sent a letter to the CRA asking to take over a wide range of services. In the letter, the band says the CRA hasn’t provided adequate services to Waskaganish, according to those who have seen the letter. The band says it had to pay for these services itself and asks the CRA for $270,000 as compensation.
Waskaganish also reportedly asks for $660,000 a year in the future to deliver these services itself. It is not clear from the letter if the band wants the CRA to do anything at all on its behalf. This raises the question: Is Waskaganish pulling out of the CRA?
Apparently, not. One chief says the band is merely upset about how talks are going with the Feds over funding. The letter was intended as a wakeup call to the CRA.
We were unable to reach Waskaganish Chief Billy Diamond before he and the other chiefs went into an executive meeting with CRA officials at Maclean’s camp outside Waskaganish.
The letter is apparently based on a resolution adopted by the Waskaganish Band Council in September. The Nation’s Neil Diamond, a band member, requested a copy of this resolution, but was refused because he is with the media. “It’ll have to go through chief and council given your position, my friend,” said a band official.
According to the Cree-Naskapi Act, “Any person is entitled to obtain a copy of a bylaw or resolution of a band on payment of such reasonable fee as is fixed by the band.” Diamond is making a written request for the resolution.
Simeon Trapper, deputy chief, refused to comment saying he wasn’t at the Band Council meeting in question.
Opinion is mixed among the Cree leadership about these developments. One chief recalled the last time Waskaganish decided to go it alone and negotiate one-on-one with the Feds. Waskaganish got its share of money before the other communities, which led to resentment.
“We were concerned about it. It’s divide and conquer. It always looks interesting to go to the Feds ourselves. But that’s what the CRA was set up for. We see it as disbanding,” said the chief.
“The other chiefs are concerned. It’s something that’s on the table that has yet to be resolved.”
But another chief said Crees have legitimate concerns about some of the entities.
“To put it bluntly, they have brought it on themselves,” he said. “It’s been 20 years since these entities were created. They might have worked then. Maybe it has to change with time. People can do more at the local level. Maybe it needs to be streamlined a little bit.”
Others agree with the need to reorganize the entities, but say the Waskaganish band is getting touchy about the funding negotiations because of budget problems in the community.
The band is said to be millions of dollars in the hole after a costly and ambitious series of construction projects. At least one of the projects, a new water-treatment plant, reportedly went overbudget. Malcolm Moses, treasurer of the band, refused to reveal the size of the band’s debt or deficit. “You have to go to the chief and council,” he said. “I don’t talk to the press.”