CreeCo and Board of Compensation hold their first-ever AGA in Chisasibi

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Whether it’s a kiss, a goose – or, in this case, an Annual General Assembly – everyone remembers their first.

That was certainly the case for CreeCo President and Board of Compensation Chair Jack Blacksmith, who had just presided over the first AGA for the two organizations July 13-14 in Chisasibi.

“It’s all about transparency and really letting our people know about the BOC and Cree companies. There’s a lot of knowledge to be shared, issues to be addressed and it was time for it to happen. We needed this and the Cree people needed this,” said Blacksmith.

In fact, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come is encouraging other large Cree entities to host their own annual general assemblies. The limited time at the Grand Council/Cree Nation Government’s yearly AGA doesn’t allow the people to have a full understanding of the entities and the part they play in the Cree world.

At this event, CreeCo showcased the Cree Construction and Development Company (CCDC), which is celebrating 40 years of doing business. Since 1976, the 100% Cree-owned company has proven to be a valuable asset for CreeCo and the Board of Compensation.


Company President Robert Baribeau said the CCDC is now one of the largest Aboriginal construction firms in Canada. It’s also the first Aboriginal entity to obtain ISO Certification in Canada, which ensures company services are safe, reliable and of good quality. The standards also help businesses increase productivity while minimizing errors and waste.


Jack Blacksmith, President of CreeCo and Chair on the Board of Compensation

CCDC’s first contracts were from Hydro-Quebec, clearing the route for power lines that would deliver electricity to southern Quebec and the United States. Since then they have taken on more serious jobs involving the construction of dams and civil engineering work for Hydro-Québec and its subsidiary, Société d’énergie de la Baie James (SEBJ).

Closer to home, the company has built schools, medical clinics, air terminals and justice facilities in the communities. Last year, the CCDC had revenues of $53 million. The company employs between 400 and 850 people each year depending on the type and number of contracts they receive, including 300-350 Aboriginal people.

In the past 13 years more than $120 million have gone into First Nations employees’ pockets. Likewise, Cree and other First Nation suppliers received $90 million for supplying construction material, equipment rental, and as subcontractors.

Partnerships with First Nations also matter to CCDC. In the past five years, they have been partners with the Cree Nations of Chisasibi, Wemindji, Nemaska, Mistissini and Eastmain. One such partnership is the Eeyou Istchee Construction Products owned equally by Chisasibi, Nemeska, Wemindji and CCDC. They produce around 500,000 tons of crushed stone per year.

Single community partnerships show long-term results, ranging from $24 million with Mistissini’s Makahikan since 2009 up to the $255 million in projects resulting from CCDC’s partnership with Nemaska Eenou Company since 1990.

Baribeau said this was important because profits were shared while contributing to community development. “The benefits stay in Eeyou Istchee as a result,” he said.

Robert Baribeau at the BOC CreeCo AGA

CCDC Company President Robert Baribeau

While CCDC can say they helped to build the Cree Nation, they can also say they are helping to clean it up. Part of the partnership with Chisasibi involves clearing a contaminated site left over from the 1970s. Hydro-Québec simply buried massive fuel tanks near the airport during the building of the La Grande hydroelectric project, which later began leaking into the river. The excavation work started this year, with the goal to finish the project by 2020 at the latest.

Deputy Chief Daisy House Lameboy said she found the AGA informative. “The information they are giving is for all levels, for those who are experienced in the field of finance and business and those who are learning whether they are considering a board position or starting their own business,” she said.

The BOC and CreeCo felt they had done a good job for their first-ever AGA. “As leaders of all entities it is our responsibility to provide information to our people. As Chairman of the BOC and President of CreeCo, I welcome the idea of gathering people in an assembly to provide as much information to our people as they are the shareholders. I was proud to let the people know and understand how we benefit the Cree Nation as whole,” said Blacksmith.

Partnerships and local benefits

Baribeau said the CCDC’s mandate is to maximize Cree interests in all projects. “As much as possible the CCDC hires locally and provides training for Cree workers,” he noted. “We subcontract to Cree suppliers and companies when they are competitive. We also use local companies and subcontractors that are competitive.”

Some local Cree companies have complained that CCDC unfairly competes with them or doesn’t subcontract them work. But Baribeau says competition is good for the Cree communities as lower costs mean more can be done. “We will continue to generate profits and opportunities that will benefit the entire Cree Nation,” he said.

DSC_1524CreeCo's 40th Anniversary Celebration

Celebrating CreeCo's 40th anniversaryDSC_1550

Gestion ADC

Gestion ADC, a subsidiary of CCDC, is celebrating their 20th anniversary. Started in 1996, they specialize in remote work-camp logistics, catering and janitorial services. ADC’s clients include mines, construction sites, Hydro-Québec sites and institutions.

During the EM-1 hydro project, they supplied catering and janitorial services, ran the bars, cafeteria and convenience store for the Nemiscau camp as well as catering and janitorial services for the EM-1 and Rupert River Diversion camps. It’s part of their long history with Hydro-Québec where they have served the LA Grande hydro sites since 1996. Two of the best-known mining sites run by Goldcorp and Stornoway Diamond also use ADC’s services.

In 2008, Profit Magazine recognized ADC as one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies. The company employs 350 people, and had revenues of $59 million over the past two years. With $16.6 million in salaries for Cree employees during the same period, the company is a major economic force in Eeyou Istchee.

Billy Diamond once remarked that the land would take care of about 33% of the Cree workforce with another 33% working for local bands and businesses. He worried about the remaining third. CCDC and ADC are helping to fill that gap.


First Nations Bank

Back in 1996, First Nations communities in Saskatchewan and the Toronto-Dominion Bank joined forces to create the First Nations Bank. Its focus is on commercial customers, including Aboriginal businesses, Aboriginal governments and organizations, and non-Aboriginal businesses serving Aboriginal markets.

The Board of Compensation and James Bay Eeyou supported the project and today they own 16.64% of the common equity – making them the fourth largest shareholder. To date only two communities in Eeyou Istchee, Chisasibi and Nemaska, have local FNB branches. Whapmagoostui will be added this year.

CNG Executive Director Bill Namagoose is currently the non-executive Chair of the Board of the FNB, which now has assets of $441 million. FNB believes the path to continued growth is in markets with a significant Aboriginal presence. They also target fiscally healthy First Nations communities, look for commercial development opportunities and are looking to expand into other James Bay Cree communities.

Cree Collective Deductible Insurance Program

Before the fund was created, Cree communities paid an exorbitant amount of money to insure infrastructure like band houses and facilities. In 1992, the CMCH in partnership with the BOC managed to bring costs down from $450,000 a year for infrastructure, and to $250,000 for band housing.

The CMHC agreed to give the saving to the BOC in order to create a self-insurance fund. It has expanded to include other band assets and their subsidiaries as well as CreeCo. Today over 60 Cree entities with assets of over $2.3 billion are covered under the program. The past 12 years have seen $30 million paid out in claims.

The program is looking to expand into private commercial insurance, private home insurance, private automobile insurance (including ATVs and snowmobiles), and private tenant insurance.

Eeyou Eenou Realty Properties

This company is the real estate arm that owns three buildings in Montreal – the CCDC building in Laval and two others on Duke Street downtown. A project to remove the Bonaventure expressway and turn it into a boulevard will greatly increase the value of the last two properties, noted Blacksmith.


Valpiro operates airport services, including aircraft fuelling, ground services and office space rental. Set up in 1971, the company was brought by CreeCo in 1989 and services Air Creebec, Sunwing, Air Inuit, Air Canada and Jazz airlines. They handle the cargo and baggage, de-icing or anti-icing and other needed services. In 2015, Air Canada Jazz said Valpiro was the Best Performing Ground Handler of all the destinations they fly to in Canada.


Air Creebec

In the 1970s, air travel left a lot to be desired in Eeyou Istchee, which prompted CreeCo to partner with Austin Airway in 1980 to create Air Creebec. It was a short relationship as the Cree brought out their partners two years later. Air Creebec began with a single twin-engine Otter in 1987 but now operates 21 planes.

Ontario saw the first all-Cree crew in 1992. It would be another seven years before Air Creebec did the same in Eeyou Istchee. Air Creebec topped $1 billion in revenues in 2013. With new schedules and recent medevac agreements, that figure is much higher now.

Air Creebec had some people questioning the price of tickets. President Matthew Happyjack said it was tied to the price of fuel, airport fees and services, maintenance and other associated costs. This company is one of the jewels of the CreeCo portfolio.

Quality Inn & Suites Val-d’Or

A partnership between CreeCo and Trahan Holding, this is a franchise that has done quite well. This year has seen Choice Hotels give them a Platinum Award and TripAdvisor has handed them a certificate of Excellence.

CreeCo Dumas Mining Inc

Perhaps the least known of the CreeCo subsidiaries, Dumas deals with mining and energy services. CreeCo got on board in 2012 to look at regional, national and international opportunities.

Dumas is involved in mine development, construction, operation and services. Their mandate is to be involved from concept to completion in a mining project. They offer services ranging from shaft sinking and tunneling, construction and engineering services, surface and underground mining, transportation and catering and custodial services. They can access training funds and applications and economic and skills capacity building when partnering with mining companies, First Nations and government.

They even offer cross-cultural training and knowledge transfer – two areas that are becoming increasingly important in opening up and operating mines in Canada today.

Eeyou Power

Eeyou Power is the vehicle by which the Cree will become part of the electricity power generation market. CreeCo and the communities of Eastmain, Nemaska, Oujé-Bougoumou, Waskaganish, Waswanipi and Whapmagoostui created Eeyou Power. To date they have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Brookfield Renewable Energy Group but have no completed projects.

The potential opportunities are interesting. Eeyou Power is looking at 115MW and 400MW wind and 10MW small hydro projects. If realized they would be worth $1.5 billion and create 300 jobs lasting four years. The cost of producing this energy would be under $0.10/kWh.

Current projects in initial stages include Lake Chibougamau Wind, Gorge de Basil Small Hydro and Nemaska Wind. Projects are currently under a review process and Hydro-Québec has confirmed they have the capacity to handle the energy output. Both the Quebec Energy Policy and the Hydro-Québec Strategic Plan favours these types of projects.

Despite reluctance to promote this industry by the current provincial Liberal government, President Josie Jimikin said they are continuing to lobby for support in Quebec City.

Robert Baribeau with CCDC Subcontractors

The Board of Compensation

The Board of Compensation was part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that would receive, administer, use and invest the compensation monies given to the Cree under the JBNQA. The BOC has 21 members composed of two elected members from each community and three appointed by the Cree Nation Government. All elected members serve for four years and must be a JBNQA beneficiary of 18 years or older.

Most bands look at the Community Fund, which will disburse $2 million this year. Small communities will see 5% divided among them. Overall, 95% of the money will go to all communities on a per capita basis. For small communities, this is in addition to their portion of the initial 5% for them.

Lesser known is the Economic Development Fund. This year will see $444,444 given to each community. Another $444,444 is given to CreeCo for a Venture Capital Fund to assist Cree entrepreneurs.

Then there’s the Administration Fund for “requests made by Crees or on behalf of Crees,” of which $1.05 million is budgeted for 2016-17. Lots of work is required to access these funds.

Between 1989 and 2003, the Cree Rights Fund supplied $11.5 million to the CRA/GCCEI to defend Cree rights and way of life.



Current portfolio value: $311.2M

Past distributions (in 2016 dollars): $278.2M

Total portfolio value plus distributions: $589.4M

Less compensation received (in 2016 dollars): -$361.4M

Additional value created between 1978 and 2016: $228.0M

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