Quebec Premier François Legault and Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière met with newly elected Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty and Deputy Chief Norman Wapachee in Mistissini August 16, the first meeting between the new administration of the Cree Nation Government and the Quebec government.
“It is with great pleasure that we welcomed the visit of Premier Legault and Minister Lafrenière on Eeyou Istchee,” Gull-Masty said in a statement. “We appreciate that this first meeting happened on Cree land. It was a first meeting that permitted us to get to introduce ourselves. I intend to maintain the quality of dialogue between the Cree Nation and the Quebec government. This is a strong start to continuing the special relationship that already exists between the Crees and Quebec.”
In his statement, Legault said, “I am indeed pleased to meet Grand Chief Gull-Masty today and to initiate a discussion on the future of relations between our nations. It is my hope that, under her leadership, the Quebec government and the Cree Nation can pursue numerous priority issues and consolidate a historic partnership.”
Ewan Sauves, the premier’s press secretary, said that Gull-Masty and Legault spoke about “housing development, environmental protection and the preservation of Cree culture, language and traditions” in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic. Legault said he was impressed by the vaccination rates in the Cree communities, which are higher than in the rest of Quebec.
The two also discussed the Grande Alliance, with Legault saying he understood that the project was not well-received by some in the Cree communities, but that he hoped the Quebec government and Cree Nation would hold more sustained discussions and consultations in the future before signing other agreements.
Gull-Masty indicated the pressing need for action on housing, with an estimated 500 homes being required for Mistissini alone. Sauves said that Legault “is committed to start discussions with the federal government in order to secure funding for the construction of new housing in Indigenous communities, as quickly as possible.” Gull-Masty was not available for additional comment.
Legault also stopped in Chibougamau, where he announced an investment of tens of millions of dollars for housing for the James Bay region outside of Eeyou Istchee.
The Quebec government in a press release said the housing shortage forces many people to work in the region on a fly-in/fly-out basis, which increases demands on services and infrastructure without returning money and resources to the region.
The sum of $7.25 million was committed for the construction of 40 rental units in Chibougamau, while another $3.9 million was pledged for 24 rental units in Lebel-sur-Quévillon. A further $87 million will fund a total of 250 more houses in the region after an analysis was completed to determine local needs.
“Our workers and their families will be able to settle permanently and contribute to the economic development of the region,” stated Legault. “We know that the famous fly-in fly-out is not ideal for creating a living environment. Our government is prepared to take a risk to build houses and allow workers and families who have jobs in the North to rent them out and eventually buy them.”