A partnership agreement signed September 21 between the Cree Nation Government, Cree health and school boards and the nine Cree First Nations aims to support miyupimaatisiiun: the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health and well-being of the people of Eeyou Istchee.
The agreement will foster collaboration between local and regional entities, aligning community and regional priorities to support Community Miyupimaatisiiun Committees. The goal is a healthier Cree Nation the developing holistic approaches that address specific Cree health determinants.
“We as a Nation have the capacity to address any needs if we unlock the collaboration as a key tool,” said Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty. “We are interconnected, but we know every community also has diverse needs, and it will take the commitment of all entities and organizations to address and work together in implementing solutions.”
The partnership is an effort to address layers of intergenerational trauma Crees have experienced since contact. Significant changes in Eeyou Eenou lifestyles during the past five decades have caused major cultural change. Many of these impacts are now found in high rates of addictions, various forms of abuse and other social issues.
“The social solidarity agreement provides us the first step into this journey,” stated Bertie Wapachee, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. “It will be followed by a consensus-making process in which we will determine the parameters of our shared responsibilities that will guide the full implementation and operations of all Miyupimaatisiun Committees in Eeyou Istchee.”
These committees were implemented in each Cree community over the past few years, composed of local leaders and community members, including representatives of the signing entities who act as liaisons. Mandated to identify up to three grassroots-level health and social priorities, the committees will then propose approaches for dealing with these issues.
The partnership builds on a February gathering that worked to finalize its terms and takes place in what has been designated the Year of Social Solidarity for the Cree Nation.
“Our main goal is not just to establish a new level of partnership between Eeyou regional entities and communities, but to become a trauma-informed Nation and society that will ensure a healthy future for ourselves, our families and our Nation,” said Wapachee. “The CBHSSJB is fully committed to this important initiative.”
Priorities could range from adolescent mental health to Cree customary adoption to support for individuals with diabetes or other chronic conditions. For the CBHSSJB, the Community Miyupimaatisiiun Committees will be instrumental in ensuring local priorities are integrated into its next strategic regional plan.
Cree leaders believe that directly addressing the extent of issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse will raise awareness of their harmful effects and help understand their root causes.
“The Miyupimaatisiiun Committees are critical to finding successful solutions that are Cree-driven,” said Gull-Masty. “I look forward to seeing their mandate begin. Everyone will have a role to play in developing a healthy Cree Nation.”
The initiative responds to recent causes of mental health issues, such as the Covid pandemic. Last year, the Cree School Board established a pandemic recovery plan that addressed learning gaps through measures related to core subject success and literacy initiatives in Cree, English and French. Where implemented fully, the literacy measures have demonstrated strong improvement with children moving up several levels.
Graduation numbers this year returned to pre-pandemic levels despite impacts of this summer’s fires, which altered the normal exam and summer school schedule. The recent CSB Council of Commissioners meeting September 12-13 discussed positive signs of recovery after several difficult years while highlighting a need for mental health initiatives for students.
“Enacting a trauma-informed approach to education means that we empower our future by honouring identity, culture, language and history, and also focus on mental health and well-being of the young people who we serve,” said Sarah Pash, chairperson of the CSB.
Developing individual education plans (IEPs) for students with special needs has been a priority over the past year and the CSB hopes to increase adapted IEPs by 83% this year. They are aiming for over 150 on-site neuropsychological and psycho educational assessments, greatly increasing assessment capacity in the communities.
Alarming results in Cree language skills led to a new plan for this school year focusing on oral language development beginning in the daycare system. Pash will meet with the Cree Language Commission, the CNG and CBHSSJB to discuss the shared responsibility of developing a nationwide Cree language strategy.
Through a new mentorship initiative, veteran Cree language teachers have been assigned to assist with planning and evaluating student progress, and to support oral language development in pre-K and Kindergarten. While these teachers had workshops in activity planning and assessment for Cree language development, support and resource development will also be expanded in other grades from elementary to the end of secondary.
A joint board meeting between the CSB and CBHSSJB planned for October 16 will focus on collaboration, mutual support and shared responsibility. The two organizations pledged to work on health and education initiatives related to youth protection, special needs, mental health, sexual health and identity construction, and culturally safe support practices.
“The Miyupimaatisiiun Committee model will bring to life our intent to realize our shared responsibility through intensive and targeted partnerships as we value needs and vision at the local level,” said Pash. “The time for meaningful action through effective collaboration is now.”
By Patrick Quinn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter