Speaking to a crowd gathered at the Hotel Forestel in Val-d’Or, CREECO President Derrick Neeposh celebrated the Cree Board of Compensation’s 45th anniversary by declaring the Cree Nation and its companies as “open for business.”
Members of the Val-d’Or Chamber of Commerce gathered for a lunchtime presentation April 6 to hear from Neeposh, Valpiro President Matthew Happyjack and Val-d’Or Quality Inn & Suites Director General Alexandre Audet.
CREECO, or the Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company Inc., was founded in 1982 with investment from the Cree Board of Compensation to act as a holding company for Cree Nation investments in construction, air travel, hotels, catering, janitorial services, ground handling and fuel transportation through its multiple subsidiaries.
Neeposh explained that when the Cree Board of Compensation created CREECO, it “gave us the opportunity to really look at what our purpose was, as an organization, but more importantly, as a Nation.” Already, the Cree Construction and Development Corporation (CCDC) was up and running and became the first company under the CREECO fold.
“So, we had to gain very vast experience in terms of community building in such a short period of time. That allowed us to capture a lot of expertise in different fields,” he said, explaining that CREECO manages the subsidiary company, but not their day-to-day operations.
After Air Creebec was founded in 1982, six years later CREECO acquired Valpiro, which specializes in airport baggage-handling and fuel services. In 1996, the catering and janitorial firm ADC was created, before Eeyou Eenou Realty Properties Inc. (EERP) was formed in 2008.
Recently appointed interim president of CCDC, Neeposh used the opportunity to publicly announce that the board of directors had appointed a new president, Danny Pash, effective April 12.
“Danny brings to the company a vast knowledge of managerial experience and he also has a background in aviation, and it was his leadership style that really attracted us. We look forward to having a very positive working relationship,” Neeposh announced.
“We have big plans, and a lot of work ahead of us, Danny, so be ready,” he added, to laughter from the crowd.
In a statement, Pash, originally from Chisasibi, said, “I am very honoured to be appointed President of CCDC. I am looking forward to coming back home where I will be implementing a vision and strategies that will benefit the company and our Cree communities.”
Neeposh urged the new president to go beyond where the company is today and to explore innovative ways of doing business, saying the construction industry is very complex, with new technologies constantly advancing and requiring a constant investment in new technology and improving efficiency.
He pointed out that over 150 employees at the Cree construction firm were Cree, representing 63% of staff. A further 37% of employees have at least 10 years of seniority, which he said highlighted their loyalty.
Speaking to ADC, Neeposh said the firm’s primary goal is to hire and train Cree people. “Being a qualified janitor takes a lot of training,” he told the crowd, explaining how the company was forced to train and adapt even more to deal with stringent pandemic requirements.
When ADC split off from CCDC, he said there was initially much resistance from the board. However, he compared it to letting a child grow up and find their own path. “Today, we’re all proud of the fact that this company exists, and continues to grow,” he said.
Part of the company’s future depends on becoming more eco-friendly and investing in newer technologies, such as electronic cleaning equipment. The pandemic deepened its relationship with the Cree Health Board, as they took over provisions for patients at Hotel Espresso in Montreal and worked to supply them with traditional foods.
Neeposh said the Cree Nation initially secured property in Montreal that he and his business partner had protested while studying in college there. “Fast forward today, we’re leading the company that owns the property,” he said.
Then the City of Montreal began plans to redevelop the area, and they received offers of up to $40 million for the property. However, Neeposh said he rejected the idea and pushed to develop their own building.
When they went back to the city with their concept, it was rejected by Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s office, who called it too generic. “A lot of developers would have been offended by that comment,” Neeposh said. “But we used it as motivation.”
After hosting a visioning session with Elders, they worked with architect Douglas Cardinal to come up with the current design, inspired by a canoe. “Before there were any railways or roads in our territory, our only means of transport was by canoe, so that is what the ODEA Montréal resembles,” he explained.
Neeposh concluded by praising the relationships that have formed between businesses and the two nations in and around Val-d’Or, pledging to continue working to form partnerships and joint ventures between Cree and non-Cree communities.
“It’s important to note that so much has transpired not only in terms of business, but the knowledge that all our companies have attained. It’s not only monetary investment, but it’s also investment of knowledge and the transfer of that knowledge.”