A recent networking event invited business leaders north for a three-day tour of Mistissini, Ouje-Bougoumou and Waswanipi. The Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance Cree organized the Orientation Mission 2019 to promote the development of sustainable socio-economic alliances.
The Secretariat has presented these types of events since being created in 2002 to follow up on contacts and projects arising from that year’s “Gateway to Building Economic Channels” symposium.
Chantal Hamelin, the Secretariat’s director general, believes they are the only organization in Quebec that brings together business and First Nation representatives to exchange information, transfer expertise and develop projects. Featuring a rotating selection of communities, the Orientation Mission is one of three networking events they offer, along with an annual conference and a “Business Exchange Day” – much like speed dating for personalized business meetings.
From August 26 to 28, about a dozen participants took the opportunity to access an insider perspective on key economic organizations, businesses and community groups. Chiefs and councillors from the three communities welcomed the mission, explaining their unique attributes, economic needs and upcoming projects.
“This one was a smaller group,” Hamelin observed. “We have regulars who come every time we do an orientation mission, but this time we had quite a few newcomers. I had an economic commissioner from Amos and all kinds of companies that want to get to know the Crees better. The mayor from Val-d’Or sent two city councillors.”
The mission’s agenda combined presentations from local businesses and organizations with tours of the communities and cultural attractions. The first stop in Ouje-Bougoumou was to the museum at Aanischaaukamikw, the Cree Cultural Institute, before a visit to the CREECO main office, hosted by president Derek Neeposh. Delegates were then treated to moose meat under the sabtuan that evening at Anna and David Bosum’s cultural camp, Nuuhchimi Wiinuu.
In Mistissini, the group visited the band office for presentations by Eskan, the Cree School Board and Apatisiiwin Skills Development. On the third and final day of the tour, participants attended presentations in Waswanipi from the Miyuu Kaa and Mishtuk corporations and were impressed by the Sabtuan Regional Vocational Training Centre and the new Cree Trappers’ Association building.
“Non-Native businesses need to understand the way the Crees want to do business,” Hamelin asserted. “All the communities are very well structured and there are by-laws to know. We bring people together so the information is well understood on both sides. That’s why we launched our Guide to Partnership on our website, so every perspective is considered.”
The Secretariat’s networking events have already nurtured significant success stories that enable Cree and non-Cree partners to benefit equally.
“The Microtel Inn in Val-d’Or was actually discussed and born within an orientation mission,” said Hamelin. “From preliminary discussion during our trip, it evolved into a real partnership between the hotel promoter and Tawich Development Corporation. They informed me they’re going to build seven more hotels together, bringing new money into the community.”
The hotel idea originated in Wemindji, where Tawich is based, and was completed last year with a $5 million investment from the CNG. With growing interest among non-Indigenous Canadians in visiting Cree communities, a majority Cree-owned travel agency called Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel was launched this summer with an eye to developing a sustainable tourism industry.
“It is very important to help Eeyou Istchee develop its economy but in the right way,” explained Maggie Kistabish, the Secretariat’s new liaison officer. “We want to show the companies coming to us the equality and being good to the environment, understanding the respect the Cree communities have for their land.”
Hamelin suggested that future activities may include “reverse orientation missions”, in which Cree representatives are similarly hosted in places where they could propose developments based on their unique needs and be connected with suitable partners or expertise.
“I would love to receive the Crees like they receive me,” said Hamelin. “We did one reverse orientation mission in 2011 with Chisasibi. They were interested in starting an eco-centre. That’s just a small example but we can do that in all sectors. The Cree communities are exploding with projects.”
The Secretariat’s next event is a Business Exchange Day in Val-d’Or November 27.