It’s now been a year since Matthew Mukash was elected Grand Chief of the Crees in a decisive vote, sweeping Ted Moses from office after a narrow defeat three years previously to the good doctor.
At the Nation, we were optimistic. After a number of years in which we felt the Crees were governed by a secretive and autocratic regime, a man who ran on a platform of transparency in government now held the reigns of power. For democracy and the health of the Cree Nation (not to mention Cree journalism), it was reason to celebrate. Let the good times roll.
Well, let’s just say that we stopped dancing a while ago. It’s not that we have gotten tired of the music, or don’t like his tunes, it’s that we aren’t hearing much at all out of the Grand Council. It’s almost as if Matthew Mukash has hung up his famous fiddle.
Before the election, he was always available for a quick quote or an interview. Since winning power, messages requesting comment on a variety of issues affecting the Crees pile up on his communications assistant’s voice mail.
A traditional request for an annual “state of the nation” interview with the Grand Chief was met with a demand for a written set of questions. Then it was months before a written set of answers (we’re not even certain Mukash wrote them) was returned to us.
Other huge stories pass without any reaction from the Grand Council. When the chiefs of three Cree communities recently announced their intention to fight the EM 1-A project, it would have been informative to hear where the Cree leadership stood on the issue. Instead, silence. Pure, deafening silence.
Mukash hasn’t been completely mute. He will sometimes return the calls of certain big media down south. But for Cree media? Don’t bother waiting up for a phone call.
When Mukash met with Premier Jean Charest in August this past summer, we tried our best to inform the Cree on what was discussed. Apparently the Grand Council wasn’t ready for readers to know the substance of those talks, because no one would return our calls.
Unlike other media-phobic politicians, with Mukash it’s not so much a matter of controlling the message as the fact that there is precious little message to begin with.
The Grand Council has issued eight press releases over the past year, already a low number. But only half of them had much news value. Com-muniques that congratulate Phil Fontaine on his re-election as AFN National Chief or go out on a limb to express support for the UN draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples don’t quite make us shout, “Stop the presses!”
We don’t think Mukash is hiding a huge whopper from the Cree people on the scale of a “Paix des Braves” pact. But we do have difficulty getting a sense of his political priorities. Where is the Grand Council going, exactly?
We do give Mukash credit for touring the Cree communities to consult with local leadership… even if these meetings were all too depressingly unannounced. We also understand that Matthew Mukash suffered from a tough illness this past year that put him in hospital for a while. That is bound to slow things down.
None of that counters the overall impression of drift we get from his administration, though.
It’s almost as if Matthew Mukash is wary of alienating the part of the electorate that brought him to power because they might have believed he could turn the clock back to before the Paix des Braves.
The Grand Chief has three years left in his mandate, enough time to show leadership. But he needs to do it openly, transparently, and he needs to do it now.
Matthew Mukash should dust off that fiddle and get us dancing once again.