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Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

Cree leaders reflect on 2018 and plan for 2019

BY Amy German Jan 4, 2019

The older you get, the faster time goes, always marching on to the quickening beat of the drum. For many, the holidays are a time to look back on what we’ve lived through and to set our aspirations for the future. Whether it has been a good year or a bad year, there are always those moments that stand out.

The following is how several Cree leaders responded to the Nation’s annual leadership poll for the New Year.

Cree Nation Government

Deputy Grand Chief Mandy Gull

What was your greatest professional accomplishment in 2018?

The year 2018 was one that allowed me to really engage my files and to get things moving. I can’t choose one because I really love the files that I work on.

The Eeyou Planning Commission has put forth so much work in their sessions to really put pen to paper and we are now moving towards having a clear outline and process for the Category II Land Use Plans. I’m really proud of the work this team has put together and they have done an excellent job for the communities to make key decisions.

The Cree-Quebec Judicial Advisory Committee has been working very hard and we are having a great relationship-building process with Quebec – new members have created an opportunity to review and push our momentum on important initiatives like transition housing services and creating space for reintegration into the community.

My biggest source of pride was all the work and effort put into submitting their Protected Area proposals to Quebec with great support from our Protected Area coordinator and Nature Conservancy Canada. We are going to see great movement on this file and I’m very excited to see such positive feedback from Quebec.

What did you struggle with most?

Trying to make change within an organization as a new leader and having to deal with push back can be a struggle.

Introducing a new file on Financial Transparency and Evaluation of our services is a new initiative at the Council board. I’m please to see support and interest from Council board members but the struggle is seeing the challenges arise when trying to review a new governance process and its implementation.

We are trying to build a new way to provide information and I value being open to the public and making sure they trust and know we make key financial decisions in their best interest. I know this file will move forward this year and I understand some are more challenged with change, but it is a file that I believe the members of the Cree Nation want to see.

What moment made you the happiest?

Having to the opportunity to travel to Finland and meet the Sami people was an experience of a lifetime but having the Youth Grand Chief join me was a major thrill. It was a pleasure to mentor her and build international relations with other Indigenous youth.

I felt that I came away better understanding of who we are as part of the First Nations in the circumpolar forest and we are pressed to protect the forest and wildlife within it. I believe the message of who the Cree are and what we did to protect our way of life was well received. I look forward to working on creating travel opportunities for our youth because we learn best in that kind of experience.

What are your plans for the New Year?

In 2019, I will be focussing on introducing sustainability initiatives within the Cree Nation and I encourage everyone to think of the impact they are having on Eeyou Istchee and to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Now is the time more than ever that we need to work on reducing our harm to the planet, as our children will hold us accountable.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to express my deepest thanks to the Cree Nation for their continued support and encouragement.

My thoughts are with those families celebrating the holiday season without the presence of a loved one. I understand how hard it is to miss someone you love deeply and I with peace and love to those grieving families.

I want to say congrats to my kids for a successful school year. I’m so proud of each you – Phoenix, Jared, Sehoneh and Esquay. Also a special thank you to my husband, Adario Masty, for all the love and support.

It is a pleasure to serve the people and I wish each of you, from my family to yours, a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year! I hope to see a year of health and blessings for the Cree Nation.

Cree School Board

Chairperson Sarah Pash

What was your greatest professional accomplishment in 2018?

I haven’t been in my new role long enough to feel that I have accomplished enough to discuss. There are things that I definitely am committed to accomplishing, such as:

  • Ensuring that Cree culture and language have a viable place in our school system and that our students move into their futures with their culture intact and proficiency in the Cree language;
  • Ensuring that we make decisions based on sound data and statistics as a school board;
  • Ensuring that community voices are heard, that parents and students feel that they have a say;
  • Ensuring that we are accountable to our stakeholders and that we employ high standards throughout our education system;
  • Ensuring that we always pay attention to meeting the needs of students in all sectors – youth, post-secondary, vocational.

I am thrilled that the Council of Commissioners are in agreement and supportive of moving forward with improvement efforts and that our partners in the administration of the Cree School Board are enthusiastic about and committed to improvement efforts.

What did you struggle with most?

Becoming oriented to my new role was quite a steep learning curve early this fall. I am so grateful to all of the commissioners and the staff at the Cree School Board for their support and assistance. It has been an exciting first few months in my new position as Chairperson of the Cree School Board and I am looking forward to what we can accomplish together – there are great possibilities opening up.

What moment made you the happiest?

I was so grateful for the way in which my swearing in was celebrated in September, hosted by the Cree Nation of Chisasibi and the Cree School Board. It was wonderful to celebrate with my family and my community and to take my oath in front of people from all of our communities, the commissioners and staff, teachers and students.

I also loved the community visits I was able to do and the time I was able to spend in the schools. I get such energy and joy out of being with students and hearing from parents and staff. I hope that they know how important their input is to this work.

There have been other great moments that I was happy to be a part of, including Chisasibi’s and Ouje-Bougoumou’s celebrations of their post-secondary students. Supporting our post-secondary students is extremely important. The sacrifices that they make, the struggles and stress that they take on are done so that they can come home and make their contribution to our shared future. We need to appreciate this and give them everything they need to be successful in their endeavours.

What are your plans for the New Year?

The coming year is going to be exciting. We will be increasing our ability to ensure that the work and decisions of the Council of Commissioners are communicated to the population of Eeyou Istchee through various ways, including social media. As a Council, we believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that those who elected us to represent them are informed about the issues that we deal with and decide upon in our Council meetings. We hope that this will encourage people from our communities, including students and parents, to become involved and to communicate with us about ideas and concerns.

In addition, we are working to ensure that accountability measures are in place and are tied to a long-term strategic plan. I am looking forward to ensuring that the Cree School Board strengthens its ability to collect data, manage data and analyse data in order to make sound decisions for the future. In addition, we will be focussing on the way that the Board reports on data to the public.

Some of the most exciting work over the next year will be done in Cree Language and Culture programming and support for language maintenance. I am looking forward to seeing the staffing of Cree language programs in schools increase, and be provided with training. We will also see new materials and learning experiences provided for students in both elementary and secondary throughout the next year. Cree language and culture are priority areas for the Council of Commissioners and I can’t wait to see what is in store for the coming year.

In addition, I look forward to collaboration with the Cree Nation Government in initiatives designed to strengthen language maintenance. The Cree School Board has a substantial role to play in regional language maintenance initiatives and in supporting language and culture maintenance in Eeyou Istchee.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

One of the things I appreciate most about the Council of Commissioners is their commitment to culture and language, while ensuring that standards continue to rise. We are working to move forward in ensuring that students are given language and culture experiences that will allow them to fully develop their identities as Eeyouch. In addition, it is a priority to ensure that students learn about their own history from an Eeyou perspective so that they can construct their identities as they determine their futures.

I’d like to wish all of those in our communities, our students, our parents, our teachers and staff the best for the coming year. As we move forward together, I hope that we do so with the knowledge that collaboration, partnership and shared effort will be key. I am optimistic about the coming year and know that together we will accomplish much!

Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay

Chairperson Bella M. Petawabano and Executive Director Daniel St-Amour

What was your greatest professional accomplishment in 2018?

The Cree Health Board celebrated our 40th anniversary this year, and it was a year marked by many important milestones – expansion of our medical charter services with Air Creebec; the 2018 Regional Assembly on Health and Social Services in Waswanipi; the return of childbirth to our Nation; and this fall, the opening of the second Robin’s Nest Women’s Shelter in Waskaganish.

A proud moment was the signing of the Partnership Declaration in April by representatives of the Cree Nations at the end of the Regional Assembly on Health and Social Services in Waswanipi. This is so significant to us because our entire plan for the future is based on what communities told us they need and want. We are listening, and we need to work in partnership with the communities to realize projects like the creation of respite homes and long-term care for our Elders.

What did you struggle with most?

The whole Cree Nation grieved when we learned about the passing of Nathaniel Bosum. He was an incredible role model. In several communities we also lost coworkers, members of the Cree Health Board family. We need to honour their legacy by continuing to work towards the realization of the vision of a strong and healthy Cree Nation.

What moment made you the happiest?

There was a beautiful event on September 7 in Chisasibi when we celebrated the return of childbirth to Eeyou Istchee. Cree midwives welcomed the Registered Midwives by wrapping them in blankets. It was heartwarming.

What are your plans for the New Year?

The Cree Health Board is engaged in multimillion-dollar funding negotiations with the province. We need to secure funding in order to fulfil the vision that the communities helped us develop, which includes a new regional hospital in Chisasibi. We will be working on strengthening services for families and listening to the needs of youth so that we can offer them services that are more adapted to their needs. These projects are all being carried out in partnership with the communities.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

We wish all Eeyouch and Eenouch miyû mikushâchîshikinitâh a safe and restful holiday.

Chibougamau Eenou Friendship Centre

Executive Director Jo-Ann Toulouse

What was your greatest professional accomplishment in 2018?

Without doubt, honouring our promise to the community and delivering the reconstruction of the Friendship Centre was the greatest accomplishment of the year. Twenty-four years of patient hoping by the community, eight years of consultation, funding research and partner development, and a year of construction.

What did you struggle with most?

Staffing the Centre was and is the biggest struggle of all. We offer good benefits, salaries have increased, the work is stimulating and has a profound impact on the community while reverberating into the communities. People come to us asking to be janitors when we are looking for coordinators and project managers. We are more than happy to hire janitors as needed, but we desperately need qualified people able and willing to take on the care, commitment and vision that are central to the CEFC team.

What moment made you the happiest?

There are so many to choose from. I am not a complicated person; there is such joy in the every day, in the tiny and the grand. Having confirmation that I am healthy, well and able to follow my curiosity and passions; catching up with my son and witnessing him grow into a responsible, funny and intelligent young man; chance encounters with former students now adults contributing to their communities and families; welcoming Ally back to the Centre team after a time away; earning a solo in last spring’s Les Voix de la vallée du cuivre concert; finally making it back into the bush this fall and being quiet and in tune again. This life is full of grace.

What are your plans for the New Year?

I plan to see the New Year in with family and spend some time with my grandmother, who is 93 years old. Then I hope to join friends in my community for a few days and fill up my reserves with good energy to get the year off to a positive start welcoming new staff and implementing the vision that the board, community and staff have for our organization.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

To all my friends, and those I have yet to meet, I wish peaceful holidays filled with joyous moments. May they bring in a year of good health, prosperity and wellbeing that extends from the immediate to the global family. Thank you for your friendship and efforts in 2018, know that you made a difference. Now, let’s have some fun and gear up for another stimulating year to come.

Cree Nation Youth Council

Youth Grand Chief Kaitlyn Hester-Moses

What was your greatest professional accomplishment in 2018?

One of the projects I am most proud of is the first step of our JBNQA Youth Training. We had our youth training in June 2018 in Chisasibi. In collaboration with the Chisasibi Youth Council, I was very proud of their implementation of the project. I appreciate Chisasibi for hosting this important project. Youth from inland and coastal communities came to participate. We recognized the importance of understanding and developing JBNQA Youth Training for our youth in Eeyou Istchee to know and use their Cree rights. We are currently in a process of discussing the development of the JBNQA, Governance Youth Training.

What did you struggle with most?

At the beginning of the year, I was motivated to change my lifestyle. I wanted to aim for a healthy lifestyle. I started working out and playing sports again, and avoided eating junk or processed foods. It was going well, until I had a sudden back pain. This wasn’t the first time I had back pains, and it started as a result of my car accidents. It was a T-bone hit in 2013, and another accident in spring 2017. I had back pains here and there, but in January 2017, that’s when it lasted the longest. I had pain from January to June that year. I couldn’t do as much as I thought I would. I felt discouraged. I tried to stretch, eat right and rest throughout the year, but it was challenging for me to start a routine.

Just when I thought I was getting better, I had another sudden back pain. I couldn’t go to fitness or play sports like I thought I would. There was one point when I sat in a wheelchair. I was so mad for not taking care of myself because I did have people telling me to do so. I had a basketball trainer, and close friends told me to take care of myself a few years ago, and I didn’t. Now I am paying the price. So, this year, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle was my biggest challenge, and finding that balance between my job and my self-care. Today, I am slowly feeling better from my back pain. Just because I had discouragements, disappointments and plans not working out doesn’t mean I will stop. I will keep going.

What moment made you the happiest?

I had so many happy moments this year. But the memory that comes to mind is seeing the youth pursuing their dreams. That makes me the happiest. They are chasing their academic goals, athletic dreams, and fighting their personal battles. The youth are becoming our teachers, doctors, police officers, Cree culture teachers, musicians, artists, and environmentalists. There are others who are still trying to figure it out and that’s okay. They will make it. The youth are trying. They are fighting battles, and they are moving. We are moving. This is what inspires me the most. This is what keeps me going. I am proud of our youth.

What are your plans for the New Year?

In the past year, we’ve been working on improving our services, administration and programming. I am planning to start fresh with the CNYC, partners and youth. We are planning to develop training projects for our youth. We will be focusing on implementing projects on education, culture, health, social and governance development. I will be touring in Fall 2019 to collect from the youth and share their input for our future. I will be promoting it soon and discuss it in more detail. I am looking forward to it. It is time for us youth to prepare for our future and the Cree Nation.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to wish everyone a new year, a new start, a new beginning. In 2018, it was a year of challenges where we had our moments. We laughed, we cried, we got hurt, we healed, we loved, we lost, and most of all, we made it. This is life. It shapes us to the person who we are meant to be. I just want to encourage all people of Eeyou Istchee to continue moving forward, and not give up. There will be new challenges, new memories and new opportunities. Everyone has a battle to fight. Always remember, when you face a battle, it’s an opportunity for you to rise. You can do it. I will pray for you all and may God be with you.

Reflections on 2018

Curtis Bosum, Chief of Ouje-Bougoumou

As we bring 2018 to a close, I have come to understand more deeply than ever before how a single year can be so challenging, so full of moments to celebrate and, at the same time, having moments of unimaginable sadness.

In Ouje-Bougoumou, we have experienced several profound losses of community members over this last year that have challenged us all to understand them, to accept them, and to learn from them – and above all, to move forward in a meaningful and positive way.

These members will always be in our hearts: Walter Bosum, Judas Shecapio Blacksmith, Alan Richard Bush, Nathaniel Bosum, Alice Mianscum, Joseph Coonishish Coon, Margaret Flora Mianscum, Flora Dixon Trapper, and Mary Blacksmith Dixon.

During this past year, we moved forward in our community on a number of important initiatives: including ongoing discussions with BlackRock Metals, Inc. to ensure the greatest possible benefits for our people related to this major mining project; continuing to provide housing for our members while we await the further development of a Cree Nation approach to our housing crisis; major renovations to our local alternative energy system; preparing for substantial involvement in a major mining site rehabilitation project; and a number of other undertakings both locally and within our traditional territory whose objective is the opening of new opportunities for the development of our community and the creations of avenues to improve the financial circumstances of our people. Through our Development Corporation we have secured local employment, and we continued to build our local capacity by employing our people to work on our community’s expansion in order to prepare for the needs of our future generations.

On a personal level, my family experienced the sudden and tragic loss of my younger brother, Nathaniel, in a motorcycle accident.

Nathaniel was committed not only to his love of his favourite sports –  motocross and snocross racing –  but also to his work in which he had recently established his own firm focused on enhancing the capacity-building efforts of his Cree Nation. His firm, Minopro Cree, coordinated training courses focused on the mining industry to ensure that qualified Cree people could competently take on the jobs available in the numerous mines within the Cree traditional territory.

In his short life, Nathaniel achieved greatness. He was a solid and respected role model for the youth of his Cree Nation. He demonstrated to our youth that it is possible to pursue a passion while, at the same time, making a substantial contribution to the development of our people. He showed through his life that it is possible to be passionate about a sport and be equally passionate about making the world a better place for the people around us through his work. He left us a legacy of dignity, passion and professionalism. The closeness of our family has made our loss almost unbearable.

While we continue to come to terms with our personal losses, and our collective community losses, we know that there is a time for our grieving to begin to diminish so that we can focus on the reasons that we were chosen to be in a leadership position – to work for the betterment of our community. We know that there are important initiatives we need to work on, we know there are still areas of significant concern in the life of our community where we need to develop creative and innovative solutions, and we know that we need to continue to assert our rights within the territory.

Our collective Cree Nation future continues to be full of opportunities, full of potential, and full of optimism for the growth of our communities and our Cree Nation. And, although we need to take the time to grieve, we know there is an inspiring future that we all need to contribute to realizing.

In order to try to find meaning in this past year for our community, I cannot help but recall a passage from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….

May the New Year allow us to renew the purpose in our lives, may it bring us joyous celebrations, meaningful accomplishments and above all, may the New Year bring health to everyone in the Cree Nation and beyond.

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Amy German has worked in the magazine industry since 2001 and has her own personal blog. She is pretty much never without something to say and is always looking for a story.