CIO Mistissini Interview

Tell us about yourself, your background and how you got involved with the LGA?

I’m a contractor and entrepreneur and I have my own company in road maintenance and construction. When COVID hit all the contracts stopped. When I saw the LGA posting, I jumped on it right away. It’s been a good ride.

What have you learned since getting involved?

The most important message we’ve learned is to be 100 per cent transparent with the people and make sure everybody understands that there is no hidden agenda. This is the first time our nation has been brought in on a huge project like this at such an early stage. Most of the time, we’ve always been told “OK, all the studies have been done, we’re going to start working in two months”. Now, as Crees, we’re able to see all the plans, the preparations and the studies that need to be done before anything is given the green light by the Cree leadership.

How have you seen Eeyou Istchee change in your lifetime?

We’ve come from having gravel roads to having paved streets and a more structured administration for the community. From what I’ve seen since I was a kid, the direction we’re going is a positive one. But, from a negative point of view, I would say that we’re slowly losing our culture and heritage. Kids are being pulled into the technological world, watching videos, not much learning. And we’re allowing that to happen.

What do you see happening in the next 30 years in Eeyou Istchee?

I think people will start realizing that we’re in danger of losing our culture, we’re losing our way of life. But I believe we’re going to turn that around and use technology to our advantage and bring back our culture in that way, help our kids learn Cree faster. I’m an optimistic guy. I believe we will be able to adapt to what comes next, using technology to also teach science and math. That’s the direction I would like to see it go in and I’m pretty sure that’s the direction our leadership will see it go in in as well.

What is the role of LGA in the years ahead?

LGA is in a position where they can help guide and show that we can take control of what kind of opportunities are coming into our land, we can control how we protect our way of life. We control our land-users, their way of life and we make sure that they can continue living the way they do off the land. And we can still bring in safer ways of transport, transporting goods and materials up in and out of the Eeyou Istchee. So I think we’re pretty much being put in the driver’s seat and we cannot let go of that position. This is an opportunity for us to not dictate but lead everybody. This is what we can do for our people and for all of us. I’m enjoying my role as CIO and it’s an opportunity for me to continue learning, but also to be put in a position where I can share as much information as I can to our people.

CIOs CMM Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background and how are you involved with LGA? 

I’m a residential school survivor and because of that, life has been quite a journey for me. When I was four years old, on my second day at the residential school, I was molested by a man there and it’s impacted my life greatly ever since. Even as a teenager, I knew I had a lot of healing to do so I started my education in social work to help myself and others. It helped me quite a bit to see how the mind works, how people work and how to better equip myself with healing strategies.   

But the road to healing is always paved with some suffering. I went through really hard times, my marriage dissolved, I lost everything, and I lived on the street for seven months. Then one day, I met a native woman who I got to talking with. She encouraged me to go into script writing, so I applied for school at Algonquin College and eventually got a certificate in that field.  

I acquired some more papers and a diploma to match my diverse set of interests –recording arts and music industry arts. I also wrote a book of short stories (Paths and Journeys), and recorded music and even became a broadcast journalist at CBC North for a few years.  

In 2020, I heard about LGA and applied for the job of Community Information Officer and have been working for the Cree community in that role ever since.  

What led you to be involved as CIO?  

I saw what happened to my community when it was displaced back in the 1970’s. We weren’t even told what was happening, we just knew people were always coming and going and eventually, our rivers were dammed, and no one asked our permission to make that drastic change.  I’ve learned from the leaders of the past, the wise people who worked with the government during the James Bay Agreement, who had a vision and helped shape what was needed for future generations. With LGA, I realize nothing is perfect but at least we, the Cree community, have a say, we’re able to practice our culture and make our voices heard. Being a part of LGA doesn’t mean I support it, and it doesn’t mean I don’t support it – it just means I’m learning and passing along that education to my community.  

What is the purpose of your position?  

LGA is still very much in the beginning stages and I’m here to pass on what I know. I just want to educate Cree people and relay our opinions to LGA. For example, someone in my community told me the railroad that’s up for consideration would go right through his home on his traditional lands, if it were to be built. My job in that instance is to help him understand the tools he has to speak up, to let his voice be heard, and to feel empowered to talk about it.  

How does your work help your community?  

I’m essentially the messenger for the Cree community. I need to help them understand some on what’s going on with their land and the potential development of it. I relay updates as I get them and give information so we can all make informed decisions together.  

What is the most important part of LGA, in your opinion? 

Saving our language and culture is important to me. And our language is related to the land. The way I speak Cree is different from the way young people speak Cree because the way we relate to the land has changed. It’s critical we preserve our culture as best we can. We must be the ones to try and figure out how we manage that as a community.  

Any parting words? 

I think that people must keep an open mind and think about future generations – what would they want? We’re not going to be around when some of these potential developments could happen. We have to give our youth a foundation to make their own decisions and figure out what direction to go. Just like they did in 1975, they laid a foundation for us to keep going. 

Ian Diamond on determining the best road forward for his community

Tell us about the Vision Eeyou Istchee consortium, responsible for the Phase 1 Feasibility Study. What is the organizations’ purpose? 

Our purpose is to look for a road map for the next 30 years within Eeyou Istchee. And ensuring that whatever development takes place does not have any negative impact on the Cree way of life. We’re currently conducting a fulsome study and at this stage of the process, my job is to be open to the possibilities within everything we find. What makes that unique is that everything right now is theoretical. We don’t know what’s possible because this level of development has never been done in the north. Our only parameters for the study are to try and hold those traditional Cree ideals true, uphold them and be respectful. But no matter what our study concludes, my job isn’t to sell one option over another, it’s to see whether or not our plan is possible and good for the community.   

What led you to be involved with this organization and purpose?

I signed up for this because I myself am unsure of what’s possible, but I’m curious to find out. And I knew I could come at the project from a completely unbiased opinion. Through my previous work, I’ve developed deep relationships for the tallymen and I want to understand how this will impact them, how it will impact the average person, the businesses and people across our communities.  

How does your work help communities thrive?

I always approach this work by asking that question, because if it benefits my community, it will benefit others. For example, if we’re mining minerals here in the north, how will we get them down south in a way that’s inexpensive, efficient and environmentally sound. Ultimately, this stage of the study is seeking to answer questions just like that. 

What’s a local infrastructure development project communities desperately need?

Having more transportation from the north to the south would open up a lot of options for our communities. It can take days to get from Waskaganish to Montreal because we simply don’t have the road access or frequent plane access. This would also open up our territories for more tourist activity, allowing more dollars into our communities and giving the rest of the world an opportunity to understand our way of life better.  

How is Eeyou Istchee different from 30 years ago?  

I’m actually two years older than the James Bay agreement. Almost by the day. I was born on Nov 12, and the agreement was signed on the 11th. I remember the very first road that was built in my community, which was then known as the James Bay Road. Eventually, each community in the vicinity became connected to that road, making travel easier and more efficient.  

You also see changes in some of the culture here as well, specifically with regards to tallymen and hunting. Some are now using more modern tools, their access points to the hunting areas have grown, thanks to the infrastructure that’s been built. Now, whether that’s good or bad, I haven’t decided but as someone who’s conducting a study on the possibility of further development, I think that’s the right mindset for me to have.

A seat at the table: how the cdc works within la grande alliance to protect the indigenous land and way of life.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background and how are you involved with the Cree Nation?

I’m a former Chief of the Chisasibi community. I reside in Eeyou Istchee and I’ve been working for the Cree Nation ever since college. I was first elected as a council member for my Nation when I was 24 and I’ve been a part of it ever since.

I am trained in finance, so I was our director of finance for many years and then worked for a local construction company that was owned by the community. Two years later, I became the director of operations at the age of 29 and stayed in that role for nine years.

From there, I was proud to be elected as the Chief of my community in 2012. I had that role for eight years. Because of my history with the Cree Nation, I was approached by the Nation to head up a new project within La Grande Alliance, the Cree Development Corporation (CDC).

Describe the CDC to us in your own words.

Its primary function is an investment vehicle, but it is so much more than that.

The CDC is critically important for industry but also for communities. For far too long Indigenous communities were cut out of the decision-making process regarding how to develop our own land.

La Grande Alliance and the CDC allow our community to make decisions on when and where developments should happen within our territory. It also helps us to ensure the traditional way of life always exists, while protecting the important parts of our land. I’m very proud of the work we do.

How have you seen Eeyou Istchee change over time?

Years ago, well before La Grande Alliance was formed, there were many projects introduced without any consultation in our territory. This led to tension among the Indigenous communities and the people developing our land, with many communities not wanting further development because of the risk of permanent damage to the territory.

However, now I see more of a shift in recognizing the importance of employment in the territories. Youth are coming to me asking for employment opportunities within the mines. And because of this need and want within our Nation, more communities are allowing mining development because they know we have agreements in place that allow this industry to thrive in a sustainable way.

When the Cree Nation have a say in the protection of our land, we can fulfill our obligation to future generations while also reaping the benefits of employment and income that result from this responsible development. It’s a very positive step forward and we as a Nation feel our concerns and our best interest are being taken into account. People in our communities depend on jobs to earn income, but also want to be able to continue practicing our way of life.

How do you see Eeyou Istchee evolving over the next 30 years?

Looking at the community level, we need meaningful employment where jobs exist all year round. Most of the jobs within the Cree Nation are construction based, which of course, is seasonal. But if you have a mining project that can go on for 15 to 20 years, people will have the ability to buy a house and pay for it. When you invest in infrastructure, you’re going to prompt development. Working with these industries ensures we can do that, but still protect what we have.

What does it mean to you that La Grande Alliance has formed?

Because of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA) and the work we’re doing with La Grande Alliance, we get to decide what happens in our territory. This is what drove me to take this role. Working directly with the Quebec government gives us the desperately needed voice in deciding what happens for our land now, and for our future generations.

It allows us as a community to look after the land and find the balance between protection and development. The beauty of the agreement is that it provides an opportunity for our future generations to have the choice of pursuing the traditional way of life or to engage in the wage economy. Choice is a powerful thing and something we as the Cree Nation deserve.