An interview with Chief John Longchap

Share Button

John Longchap became the Chief of Mistissini eight years ago and he has survived three terms in that position.

A community-oriented man with a mind for business, Longchap is passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and enjoys both individual and team sports.

Longchap describes himself as a highly motivated and energetic individual who loves to hunt and fish and hopes to carry on the Cree way of life.

The Nation: Tell me why you are running for Grand Chief.

John Longchap: I believe that I represent the leadership of the present generation. I am in my prime political career and I have been elected by the people of Mistissini three times to be their Chief. I have now been Chief for eight years. I am a new leader with a new vision and I think that we, the new and upcoming leadership, have to be given the chance to gain the experience of being the Grand Chief.

I am healthy. I am physically active. I enjoy individual and team sports. I enjoy hunting and fishing.

TN: What do you think that you have to offer to the Cree Nation that the other candidates don’t?

JL: I have a vision on how to help the people. I think that we are at a point in time where we can take the communities to the next level in terms of economic development. I think we also have to address the social issues and put those at the forefront because the social issues are not helping the youth to finish high school or achieve. They lose interest in finishing their education.

So, if we were to address social issues that would have a positive effect on families and on their children. What I would like to do is to get people to pay more attention to each other. The leaders need to pay attention to their people, parents need to pay more attention to their youth and youth need to listen to their parents. I want to build that closeness where people can feel happy and important. This will help people in their selfish games and in their motivation. They are going to take the current issues of education, work, discipline and responsibility more seriously if we can elevate the attention that we give to each other.

Communities need to help each other in economic development or in social activities and I think the regional leadership has to spend more time in the communities. We still spend too much time down south.

I think that just by having the leaders present in community or at regional events in Eeyou Istchee would bring a sense of happiness and belonging to the Cree people. Just that alone will make people happy. They will appreciate it and feel important if the leadership is giving them that time and attention. Just simple things like that can change people’s thinking and it will help them in their daily lives, how they interact with their children, run their families and households. People will feel more motivated to participate and come out to events. It would be get the people mobilized and by mobilizing the people there is more support and help out there. There could be more participation at different events whether it’s sports or public assemblies or conference. This is what I want to do for the Cree Nation.

We have been able to do a lot of things in Mistissini in terms of programs and especially in economic development. I would like to do the same for the Nation and I would like to extend what I was able to do here in the community to the entire Cree nation.

TN: So I guess what you would like to do here is use Mistissini as your role model for the rest of the Cree Nation?

JL: Yes.

TN: What do you think is the biggest problem facing the Cree Nation today?

JL: There are several. I think the youth are a big concern because they will eventually become the leadership of the Cree Nation. They will eventually become the managers and the administrators of our organizations.

Right now the youth are not graduating from high school. The dropout rate is significantly high and that has been proven through surveys and research from the government. That has to set an alarm bell off for the Cree Nation. So, we have to do something now, today! We have to direct our energies as communities, as Cree people and as organizations to address that issue.

TN: But you know that the dropout rate is high for all Aboriginals across Canada and that the Cree Nation is pretty much on a par with the national average. What do you think that you could do differently within your own communities compared to the rest of the country?

JL: As a community and as people we have to make time for our children. Sometimes we get too tied up in work and we forget family values. We forget about spending time with our children and with our families and then they tend to do things that we don’t see them do. Even the leadership in the past has focussed their energy in the international community trying to get the rights of Cree people recognized. They have been successful at doing that.

Now we need to refocus our energy and our attention to the Cree communities and address the social issues. I think in order to see a change in the youth there has to be a community effort. We can’t expect the different entities on their own – be it the Youth Council or the Cree School Board – to make that change. It has to be a community effort. Everybody will have to make decisions that will achieve the common good of the people.

I know that if we can bring change to our families and in our daily interactions with each other, there will be a change in the youth. They will pay more attention to school, and they will be more interested in learning. We have to tell them what is more important in life, what are the things that they will need to lead a prosperous and healthy life in the future. We have to show them and they have to see the importance of what we are trying to achieve.

Also, we have to start thinking that they are going to be the leaders, administrators and managers of different organizations and they need to start thinking about how they should be preparing themselves.

TN: You mentioned economic development, what is your vision for this?

JL: I have seen a lot of economic development conferences. CREECO and the Board of Compensation have tried to take economic development to the next level of importance in the Cree world, but they have been struggling to do this.

One of the reasons is that the leadership has to take the role and support what it is CREECO or the BOC wants to do for the Cree Nation. Right now they are acting on their own. Were I to come into office I would take that lead and sell the ideas to the communities because the future of the Cree economy will be in small businesses and industry. Right now it operates on service-oriented programs like the Band services or municipal services, health services and the Cree School Board. But they can only offer so many jobs. The future has to be in economic development – that is how the Cree Nation can be economically independent and create its own economy.

Right now we are getting funding from agreements that we signed on different projects and the funding that comes with those agreements is tied to the criteria that is set by the government, not set by us. We have to make our own revenues so that we can establish our own policies on how to spend the money in a way that it is not subjected to criteria by the government that gave us the money.

TN: How would you generate your own funding?

JL: There are different ways. You have to own some of these projects, you have to own interest and you have to invest your own capital in some of these projects. Let’s say one of the things that I want to promote is securing a wind-energy agreement with the Quebec government. We would have to invest our own capital so that it would generate capital for the Crees. It would create employment, and it is environmentally friendly.

Another way is to acquire businesses and franchises in the region. There are some industries in the region that make money and this has open up new ideas for the Crees in terms of ownership. That is another way to generate new revenue, to buy interest in those companies and maybe try and look after some of those franchises for the communities. Right now it is hard to capture some of the franchises because there is what you call contracts by districts and they include the Cree communities in those districts. When a Cree wants to obtain one of those franchises they are told that there are already franchises in that area. We have to find a way to break into that or even buy existing franchises because there are some that may be for sale.

What we could do is buy them and then relocate them into a Cree community. That is one way and it is another source of revenue for the Crees.

We also have to have a plan to assist all of the potential businesses in the Cree communities like in tourism, in forestry and wind energy. Other forms of resource development that are not necessarily hydro. I am not talking about hydro development but other industries such as mining. We need to assess and decide which ones we want to invest in and where we should be developing these opportunities. We need an economic plan but it will require a bit of work and a bit of research.

My idea is to develop an economic plan for all of the possible economic opportunities that can happen in the Cree Nation. It can be in different forms and different types of businesses but once you identify all of the different kinds of opportunities we can select which ones we want to develop or promote.

TN: In the last few years there have been some problems between the province and the Crees, particularly when it comes to MBJ. What would your plan be to deal with issues such as the infringements on the Cree territory?

JL: The MBJ is an irritant for the Cree Nation and we all know that. They cause problems for the hunters who want to go out and hunt freely as they want to because the government has empowered the municipalities in the north in our area. They have given them some powers in terms of taxing facilities anywhere in the Cree Nation, maybe not in Category 1A lands but in Category 2 and that has become a problem.

I know that the government is thinking of de-legislating the MBJ and putting it back to what it was. In the JBQNA the powers were given SEBJ, they were supposed to be equal powers in that committee between the Cree and the SEBJ. That was not a problem back then. It became a problem when they empowered them by creating the MBJ.

There are two options now. You can negotiate with the government, and right now there seems to be openness within the government to de-legislate the MBJ and the powers that they have.

Or we can go to court. If we go to court the lawyers are saying that we can win hands down because they were supposed to consult the JBNQA before they gave them those powers. They did not even consult the Crees. But now it seems there is an indication from Quebec that they would want to resolve this because it has become an even bigger problem. They are trying to avoid further problems between the Crees and the municipalities. They don’t want this and it’s not good for politics. They seem to be open to finding a resolution.

There is a tremendous amount more on my platform. I have a green plan and provisions for women within it and I also want to tackle the diabetes problem.

Share Button

Comments are closed.