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Business ᐊᐱᒥᐱᐦᑖᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐋᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Cree delegates share culture at C2 international conference

BY Patrick Quinn Jul 3, 2024

A large Cree delegation attended C2 Montreal May 21-23. Focused on commerce and creativity, the conference hosted over 40 conferences, labs and coaching sessions while drawing experts and entrepreneurs from around the world. Known as Montreal’s most eclectic business conference, C2 originated in 2012 from the imagination of creative services agency Sid Lee and Cirque du Soleil.

The event’s interactive exhibits and workshops featuring snappy titles like “Neurodivers Lasagna” and “Why you should be strange”. Under the second day’s “Sustainability and Innovation” theme, Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty was part of a panel discussion called “The New Progress is Hidden in Plain Sight.”

Joined by theatre producer Annabel Soutar and renewable energy expert Stephen Cookson, whose company RES has developed wind and solar projects with First Nation communities, the Grand Chief highlighted how the energy transition impacted Indigenous peoples on their traditional territories. 

“The discussion was also a teaching moment to share the history of the JBNQA and the future of energy resources created by the province,” Gull-Masty told the Nation. “The Cree territory has deposits of lithium and other critical minerals for the transition to electrification. We depend on the direction of the people to determine the future of a development project.”

Gull-Masty suggested that Cree people should become familiar with the environmental assessment and social acceptability processes co-managed by the Cree Nation so they can participate in the region’s growth. She viewed the conference as an important way of claiming space in the province’s evolving economy. 

“We were able to expose participants not only to the role we play at a political economic level but also the culture of Eeyou Istchee, which is a great launching pad for tourism,” said Gull-Masty. “Our on-site cultural presentations showcased the beauty of our territory that is open for visitors to learn and see in person.”

While the Cree Nation’s Department of Commerce and Industry invited youth delegates and emerging entrepreneurs to seek inspiration for innovation in the territory, the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association and the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association oversaw “cultural activation” at the sabtuan and teepee established on the site.

“It was an amazing experience meeting people from around the world,” said COTA executive director Robin McGinley. “It wasn’t selling – the idea was to interact. The people who came to see us stayed and talked, curious about the culture. We talked about Nibiischii, the best chance for success for Cree tourism, Wiinipaakw Tours, the cultural institute.”

COTA invited Cree language commissioner Jamie Moses and Mistissini Elder Kathleen Wootton to speak about the territory, with a “Cree tea” display from Waswanipi Chief Irene Neeposh’s company Ungava Gourmet. CNACA also invited two brand ambassadors. George Longchap crafted snowshoes and baby rattles while Paula Menarick demonstrated beading. 

“There was a heat wave while we were there,” recalled Menarick. “While my baby was having a nap, I sat in a silver lounge like a disco dance floor. Another lounge had these long white strings of paper hanging with inspirational words. I never thought I’d be beading in a spot like that.”

Hosted this year at the Old Port’s modernized Grand Quay, C2 leader Anick Beaulieu said the custom-designed site, world-class catering and playful brainstorming exercises helped participants “disconnect from their daily reality.” 

Menarick loved sharing Cree culture with visitors from Morocco, Ecuador and France. Many were drawn to the beautiful outfits she created for her son’s and grandson’s walking-out ceremonies and her daughter’s first snowshoe walk. 

“I was sharing teachings about children’s rites of passage,” explained Menarick. “They really enjoyed our walking-out ceremony, what it is and why we do it.”

Prospective clients were directed to Menarick’s online store, Fast Cloud Inspirations, and CNACA’s Wachiya online store, which will have a storefront location in Montreal’s Old Port next month. CNACA executive director Dale Cooper noted that Cree traditional crafts perfectly fit the sustainability theme. 

“We’re sustainable in that we use every part of the animal,” Cooper said. “We’re not wasteful. Parts get used to make arts and crafts. We have artists using moose antlers to make art. Our tamarack decoys are from the tamarack tree.”

Cooper was excited about taking Cree artists into “uncharted territory” to promote the culture among some of the world’s most innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs. C2 discussions delved into virtual reality, biodegradable manufacturing and artificial intelligence.  

“I wonder if the Crees could use AI to teach Cree language or create systems that would be ideal in a Cree setting,” Cooper suggested. “I have all these ideas to push our artists to think outside the box. This can open their eyes to new opportunities. There are even app developers there.” 

C2 signified another bold step onto the world stage as the Cree presence in Montreal continues to expand with new offices in the Odea skyscraper. 

“I see it as an opportunity to be on top of things rather than being left behind,” asserted Cooper. “Sustainability is the key to ensuring we’re protected as the Cree Nation. The conference pushed thinking about tomorrow. We have to be in those discussions for the next generation.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.