Eeyou Istchee women’s shelter projects mired in red tape

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The proposal to create two shelters for women and children fleeing domestic violence dominated Grand Council meetings in Wemindji in late May as Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come blamed Quebec for construction delays.

Coon Come said the shelters are a priority for the Cree Nation Government (CNG) as family violence and violence against Cree women is a serious issue. This is why the GCC/CRA is working with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay to build two new facilities – one inland and one coastal – so that Crees finally have somewhere closer to home to go to instead of shelters in Val-d’Or, Chibougamau or Montreal.

Plans for the two facilities were detailed in an agreement with Quebec. However, the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec is refusing to provide an exemption for this project, something necessary to be able to provide the programming and operations budget within these facilities.

“Some bureaucrat seems to have limited interpretation of the status of the Cree Nation Government as a public body with no municipality status. So we have informed them that the Cree Nation Government is a public body and is recognized as the local municipality to provide services for Category I and II lands. We felt that it was unacceptable for bureaucrats to put an obstacle in front of us when the Government of Quebec and the Cree have already agreed to establish facilities,” said Coon Come.

Coon Come sent a letter in late May to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Geoff Kelley requesting that he intervene on behalf of the Crees in order to get construction underway by July 1. While the budget to build these facilities is already in place, since the Crees are footing the bill, without Ministry approval to provide the operational budgets and programming costs, the projects can’t proceed.

According to Donald Nicholls, Director of the CRA Department of Justices and Correctional Services, it has been a lengthy process. In 2010, it was decided at a conference on domestic violence held in Chisasibi that a working group be formed to tackle the issue.

From that point on, Nicholls said the CNG commissioned a report to determine how best to meet Cree needs by looking at their use of other shelters as well as police statistics on domestic violence and information from the courts. From there it was determined that not one but two facilities were needed, one coastal and one inland.

“For safety reasons some people may not want to be in their own communities and so that is why we asked for two 18-bed units in our budgets because under the JBNQA and under the Justice Agreement and the federal agreement it says that the Cree Nation Government shall provide for these shelters,” said Nicholls.

According to Nicholls, this was not the first time that the Crees have attempted to build this kind of facility, but in the past funding could not be secured. For this project, funding was secured through the CBHSSJB while Quebec pledged to provide for operations and programming.

In March 2014, a competition was held for architectural firms to submit designs for the projects. A technical functional plan and site selection was also completed as of May 2014.

“By the end of March we had picked the design and so we were ready to go from there. Also, the Grand Chief signed with CBHSSJB a framework agreement and then we put together a leasing agreement and sent it to the Ministry of Health and Social Services for Quebec,” said Nicholls.

While waiting for Ministry approval, the CNG missed out on last year’s construction season and now Coon Come is determined to see ground broken this summer.

“As we speak, because we have the money, we can proceed with the civil engineering and the call of tenders. I am hoping to get this done by July 1, but we are reluctant as there is no lease agreement to be able to cover operations and maintenance, and the support and programs for these women,” said Coon Come.

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