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Pandemic response dominates discussion at virtual AGA for CreeCo and BOC

BY Andre Simoneau Aug 14, 2020

The Board of Compensation (BOC) and CreeCo held their fifth annual general assembly July 29, and for the first time in the organization’s history the event took place entirely online.

The day-long AGA was live-streamed on Vimeo, with pre-recorded presentations and annual reports from the BOC and from each of CreeCo’s subsidiary companies. There was also an update from Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) director Bella Petawabano, and musical performances by Norman Ottereyes and Angel Baribeau.

While the board of directors had initially considered cancelling the assembly to comply with pandemic response measures, the decision was ultimately made to adapt the proceedings to an online format.

“It’s written directly in our mission statement that we’re highly innovative,” said BOC Chairman and CreeCo president Derrick Neeposh. “So we took that to heart and we said we’ll have a virtual annual assembly.” 

Organizers assembled a work group comprised of CreeCo staff as well as a member of each subsidiary company in order to iron out the details of how the online event would proceed.

“We were used to holding virtual meetings even before the pandemic,” noted Neeposh. “But we were looking at the size of the assembly and we wanted to make sure that our audience was widespread throughout the Cree Nation. So the staff started working on a plan to look at what would be the best platform, what would be the content of presentations, and who would be the speakers.”

Nearly 1000 viewers tuned in throughout the day on different platforms, including Vimeo, Facebook and Instagram. 

“It was a big challenge, especially for our IT department,” Neeposh said. “But we had the right people, with the right expertise. There were a lot of complex issues, but we overcame them by reminding ourselves we have to be creative.”

The AGA outlines financial and operational performance over the previous year, as well as a forecast of objectives for the year to come, for staff, shareholders and community members. But it was no surprise that this year’s assembly was overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic itself was definitely one of the highlights of what we wanted to bring to the people in terms of what our response was, and what the impact will be on a company-by-company basis,” Neeposh explained. 

CreeCo subsidiaries such as Air Creebec and the Cree Construction and Development Company (CCDC) have seen their business numbers drop considerably due to safety measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“Flights will not be back to normal anytime soon,” Neeposh said of Air Creebec’s commercial operations. “Right now, we’re looking at possibly the end of September as a target date, but it all depends on what phase we’re at in a given period.”

Meanwhile, the CCDC has seen almost all its operations put on hold until at least the end of the year.

“There’s a big loss of revenue for the company,” Neeposh admitted. “We’re still trying to find ways to bounce back from this in a positive way.”

To compensate, CreeCo invested just over $1 million at the outset of the pandemic into a one-time relief fund to help employees and their families weather the economic uncertainty.

Yet despite all the obvious and important economic impacts on individuals and businesses, Neeposh stresses that CreeCo’s main focus throughout the pandemic has been on health and safety.

“It was about the safety of our people, the safety of our employees, and the safety of the Cree Nation population,” he said. “There’s an impact on every company that’s in CreeCo, but that’s secondary to the safety of our people.”

Neeposh – who has a three-year-old son – also notes the positive impact that working from home has had on families. He speculated that some of those habits might carry over into the post-pandemic economy.

“More virtual meetings would save time and money, and it doesn’t affect the efficiency of our staff and our organizations. Dealing with this negative situation, you have to look on the bright side as well to see what the advantages are, so you have hope within your organizations.

“We will recover, but it will take time.”

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Andre Simoneau is a writer and filmmaker from the Eastern Townships of Québec. He studied English literature and creative writing at Concordia University. He currently lives in Montréal.