While this year’s Annual General Assembly (AGA) looked much different due to precautionary distancing related to the ongoing Covid pandemic, the Cree Nation Government’s impressive progress on numerous issues demonstrated the event’s theme: “We are stronger together.”
Grand Chief Abel Bosum hosted the online assembly from Nemaska as other leaders connected from their home communities. Nearly 80 participants joined the videoconference on August 4-5, including local leadership, delegates and some CNG staff. It marked the 43rd CNG and 46th Grand Council of the Crees anniversary of the event.
“It was certainly different!” Bosum told the Nation by email. “It is always a highlight of the summer to see everyone during the AGA event and this was no different. We have always been able to adapt to the ever-changing environment we live in – this was another example of adaptation in order to accomplish what needs to be done.”
Reflecting on a challenging fiscal year, Bosum highlighted the effectiveness with which the CNG has managed its increasing governance maturity while following Cree cultural values. This approach was particularly relevant to its successful Covid-19 response, which required close collaboration with all entities and communities.
“We have been able to create a safe haven for our people, protect our Elders, find ways to entertain and support our students, and make sure that everyone had what they needed,” said Bosum. “People have also found a way to be with family, connect with neighbours and spend a little more time on the land. It has been comforting to see this happening across Eeyou Istchee.”
The Grand Chief commended local leadership, the Cree School Board and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay for their exemplary efforts since March. He said communication and transparency has been central to this success, providing the space for questions and ideas that reflect a wide range of opinions that can then be reflected in various initiatives.
“Cree citizens should be proud and happy on the Covid suppression strategy invoked early by the Cree leadership that has worked to date,” CNG Executive Director Bill Namagoose told the Nation. “Even without being able to gather, the Cree delegates were still able to be informed and give their feedback in a virtual setting. The resolution to change the name of James Bay Highway to Chief Billy Diamond Highway is a great honour to him.”
The Grand Council of the Crees passed the resolution at the AGA to commemorate the late grand chief, one of the lead negotiators of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and a founder of companies like Air Creebec. If the province approves the requested name change, it will be unveiled in November, which marks the 45th anniversary of the JBNQA.
The relationship with Quebec has grown significantly since the Paix des Braves agreement in 2002, Bosum said. He says the CNG has built on agreements to gain more autonomy, expand resources and provide communities with better infrastructure and services. In February, the CNG signed a memorandum of understanding with the province called La Grande Alliance, which mandates a series of feasibility studies in relation to transportation, communications, energy distribution and protected areas.
“The objective is to provide predictability in the development of the territory and allow us to be drivers instead of an afterthought,” explained Bosum. “Predictability and stability are important vectors to allowing proper land-use planning that ensures hunters and trappers can continue occupying the territory as they always have. La Grande Alliance allows us to be at the drawing board from the start and provides us with the opportunity to prioritize areas for development.”
A cornerstone for its implementation is the network of protected areas that Deputy Grand
Chief Mandy Gull hopes to complete by the end of 2020. She appreciates the support the Grand Chief has shown to the process and said it’s a testament to what Crees can do when working together with a common goal.
“The AGA went very well,” Gull told the Nation. “Our directors were able to ensure our operations were ongoing during this time when everything is so challenging. I missed the human interaction – seeing the delegates, shaking their hands, and getting that feedback from them.”
Looking back on the many conferences and initiatives of the past year before the pandemic’s interruption, Bosum singled out the Cree housing strategy as an accomplishment he is particularly proud of.
“Bringing home our graduates so they can pitch in to building our nation with our own people remains a priority,” said Bosum. “The housing initiative is meant to respond to the housing shortage graduates unfortunately are confronted with when they return home from their studies. We also want to be able to support families, which in turn will help free local social housing units for others who may need it.”
Private home ownership had previously been prevented by Indian Act provisions. Bosum said building one’s own home and owning the land it is on enables residents to join the housing market, which can increase in value for generations to come.
Looking ahead to the coming year, he emphasized the importance of remaining vigilant and prudent, mindful of the pandemic’s continued presence.
“The next few months ahead of us continue to be critical as we closely monitor the situation around us,” stated Bosum. “I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for your dedication and service to the Cree Nation during this very challenging time. The generous sacrifice of individuals who have placed the health and safety of their fellow community members as a priority is highly commendable. Mista mikwec.”