State of the Cree Nation 2017, Grand Chief Abel Bosum

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Though Abel Bosum is less than a year in to his four-year term as Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, he’s seen quite a lot in a short period of time. From the signing and implementation of the Cree Nation Governance Agreement and personal testimonies at Quebec’s public inquiry, to the loss of Waskaganish in a boating accident. Like every year, there were high highs and low lows, and the changing of one calendar year to the next always offers an opportunity to reflect on what’s past, and believe in all the good things yet to come.

Looking back on 2017 what do you see as the greatest highs and lows for the Cree Nation?

To my mind, the Cree-Canada Governance Agreement represents one the greatest highs for the Cree Nation over the last several years. I think it is fair to say that, yet again, we have set a national precedent and we are helping to outline one potential path not only to self-determination, but also for reconciliation, for all First Nations in Canada. Our Cree people have really grasped what this Governance Agreement means for our communities, and also, for our sense of pride and self-reliance. I am really looking forward to seeing how our people rise to the challenge ahead of us in articulating what our own Constitution will eventually become.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the low point for the entire Cree Nation, which we all experienced, has been the unimaginable tragedy that the people of Waskaganish have had to deal with. The loss of our people in this tragic accident has left us with deep sorrow for the families and the entire community of Waskaganish. The way in which all our communities made a priority of providing assistance and support to the community has been inspiring and it has been reassuring. We have all learned from this that we are not alone and that when necessary we are all there for one another. We may have differences of opinion from time to time, but when it matters we are family.

What are you going to negotiate next for the Cree people and with whom?

There are a number of issues which I have made a priority, and which I will work hard to fulfill. In general, every time we negotiate a new agreement or successfully have an agreement to establish a new initiative, we renew our relationship with governments and we renew our Nation-to-Nation foundations. Every time we do this successfully it helps us in facing future discussions and future negotiations. So really, every time we successfully negotiate a new agreement, it makes us more united and stronger in facing new challenges.

I am excited to see what will come from our Eenou Eeyou Trade and Commerce Agreement negotiations. This will help us in developing relationships among our communities and will lay the foundation for meaningful collaboration on a regional level. I am confident that this will, in the long run, make us economically stronger as a Nation.

The Cree Nation Government is working on a proposal to Quebec to make sure that it respects its obligations under the JBNQA regarding Cree priority for contracts and jobs in Eeyou Istchee. This proposal is being developed in consultations with our Cree First Nations and Cree institutions like the Cree Health Board and Cree School Board. Our proposal would result in amendments to Quebec laws that will recognize Cree priority for contracts and jobs in Eeyou Istchee.

I think, by now, everyone knows that I have identified housing as one of my top priorities so that we can address the urgent needs of our community members for affordable and adequate housing. Faced with inadequate government funding, the Cree Nation is developing our own Cree Nation Housing Strategy. This will require the financial commitment of the Cree Nation and of the governments of Canada and Quebec. I will, of course, keep our people informed on the progress we are making with this initiative.

We also have some unfinished business related to our Governance Agreement with Quebec. Over this next year, we will need to negotiate the renewal of the financial arrangements under the Cree-Québec Governance Agreement. We will also look at negotiating agreements with Quebec to provide the Cree Nation Government with management tools related to certain resources on Category II lands.

So, I would say that we have a full agenda ahead of us, and I look forward to making progress on all these important issues.

How is the Cree economy doing? How will you and the Chiefs assist to make it better?

The Trade and Commerce Agreement that I mentioned earlier will be the road map for how the Cree Nation Government and all local governments will work together to ensure that we maximize every dollar to ensure that our people receive the jobs, the wages, and other benefits that we are entitled to. Over the last 40-plus years, we have been on a certain path to fulfill the underlying philosophy of our Treaty – the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

That philosophy described a genuine partnership with Quebec in developing the territory. Our previous leaders sacrificed so much so that we could have the opportunities that we have today and it would be a real dishonour to them if we did not do everything we could to make sure we stay on that path. Part of our efforts will require that we make sure that the contracts and jobs that are generated are kept within our communities. And, of course, the proposal we are developing on Cree contract and job priority for negotiation with Quebec will also support this effort.

What do you feel needs your attention the most right now?

In addition to housing, our Eenou Eeyou Trade and Commerce Agreement, and priority for Cree contracting and jobs, I believe that we need to make some special initiatives to restore our pride in the traditional way-of-life. One of the ways to do this is to find practical ways of making it easier financially for our hunters to continue to be on the land. It is not enough for us to keep saying that our hunters are the backbone and the foundation of our culture.

We really need to find ways that help our hunters pursue our traditional way-of-life so that it is not a financial burden for them. Our hunters on the land provide us with the proof that we occupy our traditional territory in its entirety and that we therefore need to have a say in everything that happens on our territory. We need to make sure that our hunters can continue to be on the land in ways that are financial viable for them. I will be looking at ways, with Quebec, to renovate the Income Security Program to make this possible.

I have, for several years, made capacity-building a personal priority. It is essential that we establish initiatives for education, training and accreditation for Cree youth to gain access to better jobs associated with resource development. There are some early signs that the slump in natural resource development may be nearing an end, so we need to make sure that our Cree workers are ready to take advantage of job opportunities when they arise.

There is concern over the decline of the caribou herds. What other environmental concerns do you see? Has the Cree Nation had any environmental achievements that we can all be proud of?

In my role as Cree Negotiator, I spent lots of time working on forestry issues. These are always very complex issues and difficult negotiations. We have achieved quite a lot in the protection of areas that our hunters have identified as being in need of protection and we have been successful in asserting our Cree rights when it comes to forestry. The question of the caribou herds has been part of these discussions. Although we are doing better than most jurisdictions in Quebec we can always do more to protect lands and help our land users continue to flourish and preserve our way of life.

I also want to mention that we continue to protect our Cree rights in the context of mining development, and we have successfully concluded several Impact and Benefit Agreements that include important measures for the protection, monitoring and restoring of critical environmental habitats.

Housing seems to be a priority, would you expand on that?

It has become clear to us over the course of many years that housing is not just a question of shelter. It is many other things as well. Adequate housing where there is not over-crowding contributes to health. It is clear that over-crowding results in a greater incidence of a number of health, social and psychological challenges. Housing also provides and environment for our children to feel safe, and to get the rest and space they need to ensure they are ready to learn. And housing also provides us with the security so that we can all turn our focus on other issues in community life when we are not just trying to survive.

That being said, we all need to be thinking about housing differently from how it has been thought of in the past. We need to start thinking about housing as an important investment for a family that represents our contribution to the health of our families and is also one of our most valuable assets.

At the same time, housing can be an opportunity to build our economies and employ our people. And, housing can be a source of pride that can be passed from generation to generation.


Concerning the provincial inquiry into relations with police and other government services – what do you think of it and will it be effective in bringing beneficial change?

The inquiry represents an opportunity to have real change at every level of the administration of justice, and also in police, health and social services for Indigenous persons.

I am so proud and humbled by the bravery of all those women who have come forward and all those yet to come forward. If the bravery that has been shown to date is any indication of what is to come, then I am extremely optimistic about the recommendations and directives that will come from the Viens Commission.

The Viens Commission has been very open and receptive to Cree suggestions about the issues that need to be addressed and the persons to make presentations. The Commission will be visiting some of our Cree communities in 2018 to hear the stories of Cree individuals. We have been encouraged by the efficiency and hard work of the Viens Commission so far, and we see that as an important opportunity to address systemic racism and to make a contribution to a new path.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?

There is so much work to do ahead of us and I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work together with our communities, our Cree Nation Government staff and our various Cree entities to achieve an ambitious agenda. I am also looking forward to frequent visits to our communities. This is what really gives me a sense of being grounded and it helps me to know that I have the support of our people and that we are on the right track.

Recently, the Board/Council members of the Grand Council of the Crees/Cree Nation Government met with the Board of Directors of the Cree School Board to discuss our priorities, our challenges, what we hope for, and to see where we can work together to achieve these goals for the benefit of the people. Meetings such as this one are important if we are to ensure ongoing progress for our communities in addressing issues that require collaboration among our Cree entities. I intend to continue meeting with the various entities throughout Eeyou Istchee as we continue building and strengthening our unity as a Nation.

We must also be mindful of our neighbours with whom we have shared certain lands and resources over the centuries. The world around us may have changed, but we still remain neighbours on the same land practicing the same customs and traditions. We must find ways to adapt to these changes, together, and look at how we can preserve what defines us – our attachment to the land and our traditions, regardless of the Nation we belong to. We have begun meeting with our neighbours and are hopeful with these first positive discussions and look forward to where these can lead us.

I want to add that I have been deeply moved and deeply touched by the generous and warm welcome I have been receiving whenever I visit our communities. It has confirmed, in my own mind, that the simple act of connecting with each other is one way of re-establishing and confirming our unity as a people and as a Nation. And, of course, it is with the knowledge of that unity, that my belief has been reconfirmed that there is nothing we cannot achieve together. I look forward to making a contribution, together with our communities, to continuing the building of our Cree Nation to the best of my ability.

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