Power struggle heats up: Tug of war over control of Cree assets between BoC and CDC

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GCC Executive Director Bill Namagoose

GCC Executive Director Bill Namagoose

An ongoing publicity campaign by the Board of Compensation and Creeco, in the pages of the Nation and elsewhere, has raised the ire of the Grand Council and the Cree Development Corporation just as the CDC is supposed to assume control of the assets of the two powerful entities.

An advertising campaign, website, hardcover book and YouTube video all trumpet Creeco’s contributions to the economy of Eeyou Istchee since it was established and funded by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement 36 years ago.

However, GCC Executive Director Bill Namagoose charges that much of the campaign is misleading. For instance, he disputes the statement that the Board of Compensation (BoC) and Creeco have generated more than $233 million in wages over the past five years.

“Those jobs were created as a result of the Paix des Braves (PDB) agreement with Quebec,” said Namagoose. “The BoC and Creeco could not have hired the Cree workers had the project and preferential conditions not been negotiated by the Cree leadership through the PDB.”

He added, “The video claims that the BoC doubled the money from $136 million received in 1975 to $257 million today. What is missing is the net present value of money. $136 million in 1975 is over $600 million in today’s dollars. The ad actually admits BoC has managed to reduce the $600 million to $257 million today.”

Neither did the campaign receive political approval, notes Rodney Hester, Implementation Manager for the CDC. “This should have been brought to the BoC Board of Directors for approval,” Hester said.

The Grand Council first passed a resolution in February 2011 that called for the phased dissolution of the Board of Compensation and the transfer of CreeCo to the CDC, centralizing Cree economic power in the hands of directors appointed by the Grand Council and the government of Quebec.

The new corporation would also control Cree Construction, Air Creebec and Valpiro, among others. Furthermore, the combination of the James Bay Eeyou and BoC funds would create a fund of approximately $300 million for the CDC to use to create opportunities and jobs in Cree territory.

The Board of Compensation is resisting the move. A resolution drawn up last February for the BoC to approve the transfer of it shares to the CDC did not make it to the board’s agenda. And Namagoose claims that the BoC will not even allow the subject to be discussed during board meetings.

This and the high-powered publicity campaign to emphasize their economic and social contributions to Cree life suggest that Creeco and the BoC intend to continue fighting the takeover by the CDC.

Creeco President Darlene Cheechoo didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment.


“The danger in electing people is that they are not held accountable. We are rolling the dice when we elect people to manage $150 million.”   – Bill Namagoose


However, Creeco board members clearly opposed the centralization of business assets under the CDC during a meeting in January 2012, asking the Grand Council and Cree Regional Authority to preserve institutions that provide a democratic voice for beneficiaries of the JBNQA.

But Namagoose says the elected model is no longer the right one for an economic-development branch managing hundreds of millions of dollars. He said the BoC lost 30% of its value during the stock-market crash of 2008, more than it should have compared to other investment funds.

“They lost $50 million but no one lost their jobs,” Namagoose explained, adding that although most funds under management were reduced by only 17-18% in the 2008 recession, the BoC dropped over 30%.

“The danger in electing people is that they are not held accountable. We are rolling the dice when we elect people to manage $150 million.”

At the time, Jack Blacksmith was president of the Board of Compensation, and opposed the plan. He told the Nation then that the BoC supports economic development, job creation and training, “But you can’t do that by giving all our money to CDC, dissolving the Board of Compensation, the Board of CREECO Inc. That’s what we don’t agree with.”

Now, however, Blacksmith is slated to sit on the board of the CDC.

Other Cree nominations to the CDC board are a who’s who of political and business power in Eeyou Istchee. They include Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come (who will chair the board), former Grand Chief Ted Moses, Abel Bosum, Blacksmith, Davey Bobbish and Bill Namagoose.

“We have a strong slate of reputable and credible people of high calibre,” said Rodney Hester. “They have credibility with the Cree people, and bring added value management skills.”

The Quebec government will nominate five members to the board, subject to a Cree veto. “They will give us access to ‘Quebec Inc.,’” said Hester, saying they are looking for connected business leaders to provide an advisory role, industry expertise and to open doors to investors in tourism, forestry and mining.

“This is the key to our success: we will have the power now to make some big decisions,” Hester emphasized. “Our Cree board of directors and the capital we are able to pool will create a fund that can respond quickly to opportunities that can help us create employment for our people.”

Namagoose suggests the long, ongoing power struggle is at the expense of Crees lacking jobs and housing.

“The people at the BoC all have jobs in their home communities,” he said. “I could care less about those people. I care about people sitting at home who don’t have jobs. They are the most difficult to help because they have no voice.

“If we don’t create jobs then our most talented people will leave. We will suffer from a brain drain. Across Canada, about 50% of people leave their territory. We still have 95% of our people in our communities.”

And Namagoose says the CDC is a key part of the evolution of Cree governance since the 1970s.

“The big picture is that after 36 years we have made great efforts to get governments to respond to us in the Paix des Braves,” he observed. “We forced them to honour their obligations. We fixed the governance of the territory; we are no longer isolated in Category 1 lands. We have created the regional government. On January 1 the CRA was changed to the Cree Nation Government. We have now resolved governance over treaty issues. People are coming home to the communities and they are looking for new jobs.”

The Eeyou Eenou limited partnership will remain in control of the Wyapschinigun Fund (also known as the Heritage Fund) that is expected to be worth anywhere from $3 to $6 billion in 38 years. This is a high-stakes debate for the Cree people. It’s clear that a power struggle over who controls Eeyou Istchee’s economic future continues to rage.

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