Young Crees could start heading south if they can’t find work and training opportunities in their communities, says Paul Gull, chair of the Cree School Board.

“If we don’t do anything about it now, there’s a possibility of a brain-drain in the Cree communities,” said Gull. “The young people will leave.”

In an attempt to deal with the problem, the school board has spent the last two years consulting the bands and entities about Cree human resource needs. Gull presented a preliminary report on the findings to Cree Chiefs and school board commissioners in December. A full report will be ready early this year.

The school board found an enormous need for new jobs and training facilities. Over 200 new jobs will have to be created in the communities each year for at least the next 10years for young Crees entering the work force. Over 2,000 Crees who already have jobs need some form of further education or training. Also, at least 525 Crees need education and training to replace non Crees now working in James Bay. What’s more, at least 600 adult Crees need education to bring them to a minimal level of literacy in English or French.

There’s no way existing facilities can meet this need, said Gull. “Facilities in the Cree communities are almost non-existent in terms of training.”

He said each community should have a multi-purpose training centre. Such buildings are already in place in most communities across the NWT. The centres can be refitted to offer mechanics courses one year, electronics or computers the next.

Stalling by the federal government is the big problem Crees face. Under the James Bay Agreement, Ottawa must provide Crees with funds for job training. But Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin doesn’t want to hear anything about the issue because he wants it to be dealt with as part of larger negotiations on the implementation of the entire James Bay Agreement. So when will those talks get going? No one knows. Fifteen months after being elected, Irwin is still looking for a federal negotiator to meet the Crees.

Meanwhile, the need for new jobs and training facilities isn’t going away, especially with 65 per cent of the Cree population aged under 25. The lack of jobs keeps coming up during the debate in Waswanipi about the band’s plan to build a sawmill. Chief John Kitchen points out that Waswanipi’s welfare rolls have nearly doubled in the last three years, from $575,000 to $975,000 in annual welfare payments.

“The number-one issue in the communities right now is employment,” said Waskaganish Chief Billy Diamond.

“There has to be some direction in how to do job creation.”

Chief Diamond is also worried that young Crees may start heading south if they can’t get work at home. He called on all Band Councils and band-owned corporations to adopt Cree replacement policies, and said Crees should eventually look into setting up a Cree agency to coordinate human resources development.

He also pointed to two groups of people overlooked in the school board’s study— people with disabilities and women—and said their specific employment and training needs must be studied too.

We couldn’t get a comment from Secretary of State for Youth and Training Ethel Blondin-Andrew’s office before we went to press.