The Grand Council of the Crees

Remarks to the 17th Annual Quebec Aboriginal Firefighters Challenge, by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Remarks to the 17th Annual Quebec Aboriginal Firefighters Challenge, by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2006-08-12

Wachiya, it is a great pleasure for me to be here today to address the 17th Annual Quebec Aboriginal Fire Fighters Challenge in the Cree community of Nemaska. I hope you all had a wonderful time here over these past few two days. I cannot imagine a gathering where firefighters getting together would not form friendships, and have a good time together. There is a unity, perhaps, because of your charge to protect the lives and communities of your nations. Your profession, your commitment and sacrifices are to be commended.

I remember my first experience with fire services. At the age of sixteen, my very first job was spending my summer working for the Mistissini fire department. I was not a firefighter. I was in charge of cleaning the hoses, equipment and fire truck throughout that summer. It was a job I took seriously, I do not think there is a little boy that does not grow up with either a toy fire truck or thinking about being a firefighter or police man.

On September 11, 2001 North America was delivered a great blow to, it shook our foundations, our people, and our sense of safety. Rushing to the charge where many selfless firefighters and police who sacrificed their own lives and safety to rescue those victims. I think we look back and try to make sense of it all. I know it brought people from across the country together to help heal each other, but it also brought a realization of the gallant and important efforts that people like yourself perform for our communities and society. I thank you for that.

Many of you probably do not know how deeply September 11, 2001 hits home for me. I was on a plane in New York City on September 10, 2001. When we lifted off, I flew by the twin towers. They were hallmarks in the skyline of New York, and I like many on that flight, leaned over to see them as we left the city that day. I see now these movies that have come out such as Flight 93 or more recently the World Trade Center, and think while they are a part of the healing, they will not displace our memories of what we witnessed as a people on that day. This said, we also witnessed the rise of human generosity, and service to our fellow man, and woman. It is a generosity which exists in our society but we do not always show it, an event of this magnitude brought it forward. I would also say, as did our appreciation of the service firefighters perform in our society.

In the most recent time, we have had two evacuations in my community. With summer we are faced with the imminent danger of forest fires, as I would imagine most Aboriginal peoples are, given our proximity to our lands, and desire to continue to pursue our traditional activities of hunting, fishing and gathering in the bush. On the first evacuation, I flew in with the Minister for Native Affairs to see what we could do to alleviate the issues arising from evacuating a community of over 4000 people. We went to the command center in Chibougamau, and realized the magnitude of work our firefighters, water bombers, forest firefighter crews and the volunteers were facing. Minister Kelley and myself, worked together to see what type of support we could provide for both those evacuated, and those called in to fight the fires.

In the second evacuation because of a series of forest fires coming directly towards our community, I could feel the heat from fire and see the flames high in the air above the trees just across the small channel between the bush and our community. I decided I would stay with the firefighters and various volunteers in the community to help out in whatever way I could. I went onto the radio station and provided the people with instructions on how and when to evacuate. Also,

I told them on the types of service and care waiting for them in Chibougamau. I ran updates on the condition of the fires in close proximity to the community, as most who left this time did not feel they would be returning to any homes. We were able to reach our community members through radio in Chibougamau, Waswanipi, Ouje-Bougoumou and other communities throughout the evacuation. Staying with only the fire and emergency crews left in the village was something I had wanted to do for my community.

In all, I have a great sense of appreciation for the service you provide to us, the type of duty you all take to heart in providing for the safety of your communities and people. I am thankful that we have events like what happened over the past two days where your skills and level of commitment can be awarded. But I do not think given the type of work you all do, I can say there is not one person that is not a winner in this room for what you offer of yourself daily.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Meegwetch.