Grand Chief Coon Come addresses pressing issues at public meeting

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Grand Chief Coon Come in December 2014

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come addressed a town hall meeting in Mistissini February 3 to talk about a variety of issues, including education credits for residential school survivors, the Baril-Moses Agreement and the evolution of the Cree Development Corporation (CDC).

Residential school survivors, Coon Come explained, still have an opportunity to access up to $3000 in post-secondary education credits, as the original October 31, 2014 deadline had been extended to March 31, 2015.

“First of all, if you applied for the community experience payment you will automatically receive an acknowledgement letter,” said Coon Come. In that letter applicants will be told how apply. In the past, survivors were told the money could only be used at a college, Cegep or university. But Coon Come said this was a “pile of crap.”

A court action brought by residential school survivors argued that the credit at a mainstream institution would not address loss of language and culture. For example, Coon Come pointed to a First Nation in BC that had lost traditional fishing skills and created a program to compensate, a program that is now eligible to use the survivor educational credit.

“In the case of the Crees, I told them it was up to the chief and council, not the Cree Nation Government to decide these things. It is not up to the individual in terms of receiving cash. It can be used if you want to do make a fishing net or to make snowshoes for example. You get someone to teach you and they get the money. Or you can use it for your children,” said Coon Come.

He also pointed out that credits could be grouped. “With 10 of you that’s $30,000 towards a Cree cultural program you would develop.”

Baril Moses Agreement

Coon Come summarized the forestry agreement adopted in 2002 that put a moratorium on clear-cutting operations until 2010. In that year, and without consulting the Crees, the Quebec government adopted the Sustainable Forestry Development Act to allow forestry operators to conduct “eco-tourism” cutting, which is actually clear-cutting.

What the Crees had agreed to was mosaic cutting, in which the forestry operator would sit down with the trapper and he would identify where his winter lodge was, where his spring camp was and protected areas like moose yards, beaver lodges and where there was wood he would need to make snowshoes and other areas that should be protected. The trapper would also know when the forestry company was coming in and which areas they would be cutting.

Coon Come said the government broke this agreement and that was why the Grand Council took them to court. “Of course then the government reacts,” Coon Come noted.

Former Premier Lucien Bouchard was appointed to mediate with the Cree but Coon Come said he told Premier Philippe Couillard that Bouchard would be lonely as there would be no Crees at the table. “We did not agree to the mandate,” said Coon Come.

The Crees and Quebec would later out a mandate to resolve the problem. Coon Come says the table is now overflowing with issues to be worked on such as the Baril-Moses Agreement, overlapping traplines between Cree communities and other First Nations, the height of land, the endangered caribou and protected areas, among others.

Cree Development Corporation

Next up was the CDC, created as part of 2002 Paix des Braves Agreement. Coon Come acknowledged obstacles to the CDC’s planned growth in the past five years. He said the intent of the CDC is the Crees’ main vehicle for economic development. Coon Come said the Crees have made great strides in education, health, training and preferential contracts, but now there is a need to focus on economic development.

The Board of Compensation (BOC) will continue, he said. But, “we’re taking CreeCo and putting it under the CDC” because the CreeCo companies can’t expand under the BOC’s administration, argued Coon Come.

One of the roadblocks he identified is that the BOC wouldn’t allow a proposal to enact the transfer to be tabled at a board meeting. Coon Come pointed to an independent committee created by past BOC/CreeCo Chair Darlene Cheechoo to look at the CDC. The committee’s report concluded the CDC was the proper vehicle to encourage economic development, Coon Come said.

“They [BOC] think we are going to dissolve them. We aren’t going to do that. They thought we would dissolve James Bay Eeyou. We didn’t do that. The CDC was decided by public referendum and that’s all there is to it,” said the Grand Chief.

Coon Come said the CDC head office will be in Oujé-Bougoumou and that staff wouldn’t be displaced. The directors of CreeCo companies wouldn’t be affected but Coon Come says what is needed is new capital and expansion.

“The CDC would be able to get additional capital that would be matched by the Quebec government dollar for dollar,” noted Coon Come. He added that the necessary research on how to transfer CreeCo from the BOC to the CDC is complete. All that is left is for the boards of the BOC/CreeCo to bring the question to the table and make a final decision.

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