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Mistissini hosts Secretariat’s annual economic event in-person

BY Ben Powless Jul 3, 2022

The Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance (SCNATEA) held its 2022 annual conference in Mistissini June 8-9, the first time it was able to hold its event in-person since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. 

About 120 people attended the two-day event, which featured presentations on Cree Nation economic development, mineral exploration, business strategy, and tourism in the North. There was also a bus tour of the community and entertainment, including jingle dress dancers and a singer.

Secretariat President Ted Moses said the highlight was the presentation by Dr. Sean Wise on business strategy and entrepreneurship. “There was a lot of information related to tourism, business start-ups, we had speakers come in locally as well as from the Cree Nation Government and outside.” 

He hopes that entrepreneurs and businesses will use information from the conference to develop partnerships between Cree and non-Indigenous entrepreneurs. 

This year’s theme was “Looking ahead together, which means understanding one another, and it has objectives to inspire and give ideas to local entrepreneurs or give opportunities to meet with the community in the spirit of discussion for a day-and-a-half,” said Secretariat Director General Chantal Hamelin.

“The Secretariat takes to heart this goal to bring people together. We were established nearly 20 years ago, so we’ve been doing this for almost 20 years,” she added. “It seeks to provide venues and opportunities for collaboration with Cree and non-Cree entrepreneurs, so that means everyone can take the opportunity to discuss that.”

The organization prefers to have events rotating from community-to-community, so the Secretariat asked Mistissini Chief Derrick Neeposh to host the gathering. He made the arrangements after going through the community’s Covid committee. “We really appreciate his openness, he was a great host for our event,” Hamelin said.

The last in-person gathering was held before the pandemic in 2019. Last June, the Secretariat held an environmental and energy conference virtually. But Hamelin said that people were “so happy” to be back together, seeing each other’s smiles. “Everyone left really optimistic.”

For Hamelin, the highlights of the event were the people who attended and took the time to prepare presentations, exchanges and panels. “Mistissini opened up their community for us and were really great hosts,” she added.

Hamelin said a challenge for businesses up North is a lack of knowledge about how to form relationships with Indigenous communities and businesses. Moses said the best way to deal with that is the SCNATEA’s annual Business Exchange Day. He said 200-250 participants from Cree and non-Cree backgrounds attend and are set up in a “speed dating” format, taking 10 minutes to get to know each other, and then do follow-ups after the gathering.

To that end, Moses hosted the first regional event in support of the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous Peoples and Quebec in Roberval. The Circle was launched in November in Montreal as an effort to host discussions and networking between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across Quebec and spur Indigenous involvement in economic opportunities. 

“We’re bringing together representatives from First Nations, businesses and governments. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs from Quebec is here, the Crees were invited,” Moses said. “I’m making the announcement that the next meeting of the Grand Circle will be in Val-d’Or” November 15-16, matching up with the Business Exchange Day. “We expect a good turnout. The Crees will be there, and I hope the Algonquins, who are our neighbours, will be there.”

by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.