Chisasibi held the second day of its annual general assembly November 2; it had been postponed for a month due to a death of an Elder in the community. For Chief Daisy House, broadcasting these meetings on the radio are a valuable opportunity for community members to learn about important local issues while hearing stories from Elders.
“Long ago, they would have shouting matches at community meetings, but they didn’t hold grudges,” House recalled. “Some don’t have Elders at their home but if they hear stories on the radio, that’s ammunition for carrying our culture and traditions forward to our children and grandchildren.”
The general assembly heard about Kathryn Borbridge’s Animal Care and Control “spay and neuter” campaign and discussed Washaw Sibi’s request for transferring one square kilometre towards its future village. A community referendum will determine that decision, which is complicated by the significant impact of development on Chisasibi territory.
“We’ve had 50 years of impact and Hydro-Québec has eight dams out of 11 on Chisasibi territory,” House told the Nation. “It won’t be that easy to give away land when we’ve lost so much. There’s so much underwater that the younger generation will never get to see.”
While Hydro-Québec is implementing refurbishments of their aging LG-3 and -4 generating stations, it’s begun discussions with the community and Cree Nation Government about the potential for further upgrades. The company has agreed to study the nearby riverside’s record level of erosion.
“This will be the fifth consecutive winter the Fort George crossing doesn’t freeze,” explained House. “We used to be able to snowshoe or skidoo to the island. We’ve had an exceptional amount of erosion, especially the last two years.”
With the winter caribou hunting season approaching, community leaders have discussed with tallymen the prospect of renewing last year’s mutual understanding with the Innu Nation that enabled them to share in the Cree guaranteed harvest. While the Innu were hoping to start hunting before Christmas, House suggested that will be determined by the caribou population’s sustainability.
“We’ll work around the caribou’s schedule,” said House. “Weather and the tallymen also determine the hunt. Out of that agreement, we ask for respect for the caribou, the land and the land users. We don’t want a handful of delinquents to ruin it for everybody.”
Although 19 of the 40 involved tallymen have welcomed the Innu back to their traplines, others have various reasons for saying no, such as not having caribou in their area. House emphasized the Elders’ teachings of only taking what you need, not hunting from a moving vehicle or at night, and knowing your surroundings.
On Fort George Island, Elders continue to be consulted in identifying priority areas to investigate at former residential schools. George E. Pachano has been hired to work on the project’s next steps, which may involve ground penetrating radar (GPR), LiDAR or another new technology that can detect old graves without excessive clearcutting.
With new Deputy Chief Mark Wadden (following Paula Napash’s resignation this summer), one of the community’s priorities is addressing its housing backlog, including a 1,000-person waiting list. The private market can’t expand quickly enough, with new homes selling before they’re built and one recent open house drawing 90 visitors.
Developing the private sector was a focus of Sheena Costain’s AGA presentation for the Department of Commerce and Industry. Aiming to stimulate and diversify economic growth in Eeyou Istchee, the department wants business owners and potential entrepreneurs to know about its various funding programs.
“Whereas the private sector is flourishing, and the public sector is on the backburner in most of Quebec, in Eeyou Istchee it’s the flip,” asserted Costain. “Social economy is a big one for us, like not-for-profits, because we don’t see a lot of thrift stores, food banks, greenhouses.”
While these gaps were identified during community discussions, aspiring entrepreneurs were more likely to be interested in starting construction and transport companies, restaurants, cafés or convenience stores. Costain said many of these business types are lacking in the more isolated coastal communities, resulting in significant “economic leakage” from long shopping trips.
Funding applicants are encouraged to also look towards sources such as Apatisiiwin Skills Development and Eeyou Economic Group. When creating a business plan, your local economic development officer should be your first step for guidance and covering the plan’s costs.
During her late-summer community tour, Costain realized a need to better connect with young entrepreneurs and support more modern business models that leverage the online world. She looks forward to targeting this demographic, perhaps planting the seeds of entrepreneurship in secondary school workshops.
“What’s so unique about Chisasibi is youth were very engaged,” Costain said. “They stayed with us all day and were the last to leave, with lots of questions about online platforms. One of the many different avenues to having a career in Eeyou Istchee is being your own boss, achieving your own vision for what you think is needed here.”
Responding to strong demand for expanded cultural programs during the Cree Nation Youth Council AGA this summer, Chisasibi’s Youth Council is planning land-based retreats this winter for both young women and men.
“We may be prioritizing those needing extra guidance,” suggested Youth Chief Corrina Napash. “We’ll be giving opportunity to build sisterhood, also having sewing activities, preparing traditional food. The same thing for the young men – hunting trips, life skills. A lot of youth don’t have access to the land.”
Among the organization’s many initiatives was a recent 100-day Sober Challenge, which drew 42 participants vying for the $4,000 travel-voucher grand prize. With summertime binge drinking common, Napash said the goal was to encourage reflection about consumption while promoting the many community resources available for those seeking help.
The Challenge culminated with a feast, including swag from Cree Prints Customs and entertainment from Brian Fireman. Recent activities like the popular haunted trail have raised funds for the upcoming “Gifts from the Heart” campaign, which provided gifts to about 250 children from low-income families last Christmas.
“If entities have the opportunity to fund these projects, please do, because they do help,” said Napash. “The cultural programs bring us a lot of healing and connection to our land.”