The Cree Nation is mourning the loss of John Mark, a former Chief of Wemindji who played a pioneering role in the establishment of many important entities in the Cree Nation, including Air Creebec.
“John Mark, together with many other genuine pioneers of our modern Cree Nation, was an important part of many of the successes that our Cree Nation achieved in its earliest and most difficult years,” stated Grand Chief Abel Bosum. “Like a true pioneer, he sacrificed so much personally in order to lay a solid foundation for future achievements of our Nation.”
Well known for his “wicked sense of humour”, it was fitting that Mark passed away April 1, Bosum remarked. He expressed the Cree Nation’s condolences to Mark’s wife Frances, their family and the community of Wemindji.
“The Cree Nation owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to John Mark for his energy, his commitment and for his dedication to the cause of ensuring that our Treaty would be fulfilled for the benefit of all of us and for our future generations,” Bosum said. “May John’s memory continue to be a blessing to all who loved him and all who knew him. Farewell my friend!”
Mark was Chief of Wemindji in its earliest days when the community moved from the mouth of the Old Factory River in 1959. In the 1960s, Wemindji was accessible only by boat or plane and the radio telephone connecting it to the outside world sometimes wouldn’t work for days at a time.
“There were no roads out of the community,” Mark told Digital Museums Canada in 2009. “The mail could be delayed for six weeks during freeze-up and then again at break-up. We needed an airstrip, so we built one with volunteer help. That whole project cost under $1,000.”
CNG Executive Director Bill Namagoose recalled that Mark was one of the original leaders to take a stand against Quebec’s hydroelectric “project of the century” in the 1970s, which paved the way for the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
Mark remained active in many Cree entities, including serving more than 40 years on the Board of Compensation.
“John Mark was a great man, great leader, great father and a great friend,” shared John Blacksmith, former chairman of the Board of Compensation.
Blacksmith recalled Mark’s stories from the early years of Grand Council of the Crees, noting that he oversaw the transport of Crees from place to place during the negotiation of the JBNQA.
“I will miss you man and the last time we talked I could barely understand you, but I thank you wholeheartedly for trying,” Blacksmith continued. “I will see you in the next world where there is no suffering.”
Mark was also known from playing hockey and for his involvement with the Anglican church. He was a valued member of the Nishiiyuu Council of Elders almost since its formation and continued to attend virtual meetings until less than two weeks before his passing.
“John’s experience in all fields of the Cree world was vast and he brought his knowledge and expertise to the Council,” Nishiiyuu wrote in a statement. “His contributions were valued and appreciated. His love of laughter eased the stress of long meetings – he was a people person and was a friend to many.”
Photos provided by Geraldine Mark