For a complete list of this year’s resolutions, click here
The face of Cree politics changes from year to year and this year’s Annual General Assembly emphasized this. A new wrinkle in that face featured live streaming of the AGA over the Internet. As in the past, the supreme political body of our nation was broadcast live over Cree Regional Radio. Using these technologies to reach more people is something for which the Grand Council should be congratulated.
Wemindji can also be proud of the way they hosted delegates and guests. They offered free James Bay boat tours that were so popular tour guides had to turn people away. Others signed up for the softball game.
Wednesday had many delegates and community members groaning and loosening their belts. Along with the regular meals at the St. John Anglican Church, the VCC Massénor construction company hosted a BBQ featuring 700 steaks, 400 or so hamburgers and 350 hotdogs with trimmings. In its 12th year, the annual event is open to all. They started cooking at 3 pm. Later that night was the community feast with goose, moose stir fry, beaver, fish (smoked and pan fried) and a host of other goodies.
At one point I commented on the low number of local residents attending and discovered the reason why. Wemindji has one of the highest employment rates among the Cree Nation and most of the community was working during the day.
Wednesday’s feast saw Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark take their Oaths of Office followed by their inaugural speeches. Videos of the event can be accessed on the Nation website and Facebook page. Coon Come said, “There can be no more humbling experience than to gain the trust and respect of one’s own people at a crucial point in the history of our young nation.”
Following this, Eeyou Eenou Police Director Reggie Bobbish was honoured for his 40 years of policing. Bobbish showed his humble side by thanking the “Creator for his protection” throughout his career. “I don’t want to forget my staff; all those dedicated officers, men and women, who are working restlessly day and night to protect the citizenry of Eeyou Istchee,” he added.
Bobbish expressed gratitude for his family’s understanding and support. He thanked the Cree people and the Grand Council for the confidence they expressed by making him the first regional director. Bobbish ended with a word of advice for people and his fellow police officers: “I would like to share my recipe on how to make it to 40 years of active duty. It’s very simply, ‘One day at a time.’ That’s how you do it and I must say I loved every minute of it.”
The Eeyou Eenou Police is implementing a police cadet pilot project for youth aged 14 to 17 in three Cree communities. Expect more on that initiative in the next issue of the Nation.
The Cree Nation Achievement Awards honoured students for Academic Excellence. The awards went to Megan-Icebound-Ottereyes from Waswanipi, Eastmain’s Jasmine Namagoose, Kayleigh Spencer of Mistissini, Oujé-Bougoumou’s Kevin Lacroix and Joshua Gull Cooper from Waswanipi. These role models and their accomplishments will be featured in the Nation’s upcoming Back-to-School issue.
All of the presentations by the Cree School Board, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services, Board of Compensation and CreeCo, Cree Nation Trust, Cree Trappers Association, Cree Naskapi Commission contained few surprises. Basically it was “we have done well and here is what we accomplished. There are a few problem areas but we are working on it.” Most annual reports can be accessed on the entities’ websites.
The various displays were interesting this year. The Health Board showed the effect of alcohol on a chicken egg. You could see it bubble and cook at room temperature. It is an effective demonstration as who would want to cook their child.
The CHRD had people fill out questionnaires and then spin an iPad wheel of chance for prizes. I won a $25 AppStore gift card and was entered in a draw for two mini iPads. Talking to Steve Forward I was told that last year CHRD hired two people for the summer to have the questionnaires filled out. At the end, they only had about 100 responses. This new way saw over 100 people responding in two days. Hats off to them for the effectiveness of this new strategy. CHRD plans to use it at career fairs and other Cree gatherings.
The big topic this year was Cree Governance and the Cree Nation Government (CNG). Most Crees know of the issues surrounding the Municipality of James Bay (MBJ) and the exclusion of Crees from the governance of Eeyou Istchee. The various governance agreements between Canada, Quebec and the Cree will change the way Eeyou Istchee is run. The MBJ and the James Bay Regional Council will be abolished. Crees will have jurisdiction over Category II lands. The CNG will create a Regional Land and Resource Commission that will consult with the Cree communities on what can be done in those lands.
Over all of Eeyou Istchee a regional government shall be created involving both Crees and the municipalities of Chapais, Chibougamau, Matagami and Lebel-sur-Quevillon. This new Council shall have 22 seats and 44 votes divided equally between the Crees and Jamesiens for the first 10 years. After that, representation and votes will be based on populations. The powers of the new Council will be similar to the ones that were enjoyed by the MBJ. There is still a lot of work to be done but Quebec’s Bill 42 (adopted) on this issue will go into effect January 1, 2014. This is an issue every Cree should be looking into as it will impact our future for generations to come.
Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark is an interesting addition to the Cree political structure. Many people were impressed when, during a campaign stop in Mistissini, he started collecting empty beer bottles and some youth who were drinking approached him. He spent half an hour talking to him. Most politicians would have left as soon as possible. Mark explained that they were human beings and deserved the same respect and consideration as anyone else. Another difference was evident when one resident said that Mark, upon becoming chief of Wemindji, moved out of the large office most politicians prefer. He put three people in that office and moved to a smaller space near the Band Council entrance.
The last day of the AGA was an endurance test for some Elders, finishing well after 9 pm. Many felt it to be productive and the Nation asked Coon Come a few questions.
The Nation: Was this your first one? Seriously, besides the legal requirement to hold an AGA, why do you feel they are important to the Cree people?
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come: The Annual General Assembly has always been the forum through which our various Cree entities report to our people, and at the same time, it is the forum where the Cree Nation establishes and confirms the general direction and priorities for our entities. This is the role it has historically played and which it continues to play.
I have always thought that our AGAs provide an important function in terms of “checks and balances” so that overall direction of the Cree Nation is determined not just through elections and hoping that people who are elected carry through on their election promises, but also, direction is provided through this very public forum comprised of representatives of all the communities. It is the resolutions and other decisions at our AGAs that additionally provide important guidance for our Cree entities.
What was behind the decision to do the live streaming?
Just to follow up on my previous comment about the role of the AGA, if in fact, this is the major forum for providing direction and guidance to our Cree Nation, then it is extremely important that what takes place at this Assembly is accessible to as many of our people as possible. It is really an issue of transparency and flow of information. When I go to our communities to discuss important issues I want people to be as informed as possible so that we have really meaningful conversations and meaningful dialogues about these important issues. Modern technology has provided us with the opportunity to enhance the degree and the quality of civic engagement among our people. I have long believed that these technologies, including social media, can play an important role in the development of democratic processes and participatory governance. For us, in the same way that we began live broadcasting of meetings of the Grand Council/CRA Council/Board, to live-stream the AGA is an excellent way of realizing this objective.
How successful do you think it was?
It is sometimes hard to assess the impact of this new way of making information available to people at the local level, but I am convinced that it is the right direction to go in. We will, over the next short while, have a sense of how this has affected the nature of conversations in the communities, formally and informally, about issues which were discussed at the AGA. The impact of having done this will come out in the kinds of issues, which come before all of our Cree entities. All of our major entities have mechanisms in place for people at the local level to make their opinions and concerns heard. We will see if the discussions at the AGA have, through the increased accessibility to those discussions, influenced the thinking of people at the local level who also influence the local representation on our Cree entities. I am looking forward to seeing what the changes will be to the quality of our discourse as citizens of the Cree Nation.
This year’s “surprise” addition to the agenda was the walkers against violence. What are your thoughts on this issue?
First of all, although the presence of the walkers against violence wasn’t on the agenda, it is not the least surprising that they raised issues that are so important to people in our communities. I completely agreed with the content of their comments. In fact, during the recent election campaign I was saying the same things. My recent election platform was based on four pillars, one of which was “Fixing our Homes”. What I meant by that was that in order for our Cree Nation to realize the noble vision of Indigenous Nation-building we need to have healthy individuals and healthy communities. We cannot hope to build a healthy and prosperous nation if it is not built on a solid foundation, and that solid foundation is our people. I said many times during the recent election campaign that we could no longer sweep our social issues under the rug hoping that they will go away. Just as we have been innovative in so many areas over the years, it is time for innovation and commitment in this area and we need to be pioneers in this area as well. We need to address our social issues with the same determination as we have applied to defending our rights over the past 40 years.
What do you feel was the most important issue at the AGA?
It is really hard to say this year that there is an issue that is the most important. All the issues that came up for discussion are important and there is a real sense in which they are all priorities. But I can tell you that, as we explained at the AGA, we will be placing a great deal of emphasis on implementing the Governance Agreement. We will be having a significant number of meetings internally among ourselves and externally with representatives of the Quebec government and with representatives of the region’s municipalities to ensure proper implementation of this historic agreement.
We will continue to make youth engagement a serious priority. We will conduct tours to all our communities to bring to our nation’s youth the message we gave to out post-secondary students last March in Ottawa when we held our Capacity-Building Roundtable. This was a very successful conference and we explained to the youth their vital role in the future in the building of our nation. We will continue to reach out to our youth to inspire them and to encourage them to channel their energies and their enormous potential to making a contribution to the future generations of Cree people.
We take very much to heart the message given to us by the walkers against violence, and as I mentioned, we need to address the social problems in our communities with innovation and creativity and on an urgent basis.
We will continue to support the efforts of the Washaw Sibi Eeyou to establish themselves in their own community, on their own traditional territory, and a community that will see the protection of their Cree language and culture.
All of these issues were raised at the AGA and we will be working hard on all of them. They are all really areas we need to focus on in order to achieve our vision, and continue our mission, of building the Cree Nation.
Some comments were made on how long that some people talked when asking questions. Are there plans in the future to have limits on how long a person can talk and if so what would they be?
Thanks for that question and I appreciate how short it was. Personally, I am not at all bothered by the fact that people at our AGA sometimes take time to reach their question. We are, after all, an oral culture. This is how we are and this is how we speak. There is richness to the interventions people make in public meetings and it is a way of providing a context for questions or concerns that people may have. By explaining the context in which they are asking a question, instead of just bluntly demanding an answer to a question, our people show respect to the person that they are speaking to by explaining where the question comes from. Sometimes this becomes autobiographical, but that’s okay. I appreciate this from a Cree cultural perspective, and I certainly will not be doing anything to try to curtail or muzzle the way in which people speak.
As we, the Cree people of Eeyou Istchee, move towards greater governance of our territory, and as we move forward in fulfilling the vision of becoming a strong Indigenous nation and the masters of our own destiny, we all need to come together in unity as never before and remain the strong nation that we have become so that we can take on the challenges ahead with honour, with dignity and with resolve. We will now need everyone’s contribution to the mission of continuing to build the Cree Nation.
I sensed at this year’s AGA that there is an understanding and an acceptance of this mission. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves together with all of Eeyou Istchee and getting on with the work ahead of us. There is a lot at stake for us not to give it our best.