The Grand Council of the Crees

Muskegowuk Annual General Assembly Fort Albany, September 21, 2006: Remarks delivered by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Muskegowuk Annual General Assembly Fort Albany, September 21, 2006: Remarks delivered by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2006-09-21

It is an honour to be invited by the Muskegowuk Council to participate at your Annual General Assembly. It is also a privilege for me to visit the community of Fort Albany, and enjoy the hospitality of the Fort Albany First Nation. I am here on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee). I was happy to see a number of the chiefs and members of the Mushkegowuk Council attend the Grand Council Annual General Assembly last month in community of Ouje-Bougoumou. I think this is something we should do more often.

While a Bay separates our territories, in truth we have many more things which can join us. Our common heritage, values, traditions and history, when I come to another Cree community I think of all the familiar things which remind me of my community and people. I think of the similar climate, food, language and issues we face as Aboriginal peoples in this country. There continues to be a large gap in the standard of living between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal communities in Canada. In terms of service, more money is given to education, health care, infrastructure and programs in non-native society than in ours.

There also seems to be increasing competing interests involving our traditional lands. Mining, forestry and other resource development activities are increasingly developing in our lands. In the past, this was not with our consent or consultation; however, with our agreements we were able to create an assessment review process for proposed development in our territories to look at socioeconomic and environmental impacts. Further, we were able to negotiate new agreements lately to ensure our participation in the design and monitoring stages of proposed projects to ensure our interests were factored in, and there were clear benefits for our people.

Our experiences with resource development activities in our territories have been varied. While some of our people have participated in the long term mining ventures, and have learned new trades such as drilling, heavy equipment operations and many others, and have taken the subcontracts for services such as catering, cleaning and maintenance associated with large scale development facilities and work camps. The jobs and contracts last in accordance with the life of the project or activity. In the case of hydroelectric development, employment has been high but it has only been temporary until the construction is done. Mining operations depend on the markets and price of the material being extracted. These operations in our territory have had longer benefits in terms of employment, but not necessarily in terms of contracts. Some mining and natural resource activities have left our lands and waters contaminated. There must be good monitoring on the part of First Nations to what is happening to the land, as companies have abused the government?s lack of oversight of their activities in the past. We are faced with lands, animals, fish and an environment that are in danger. So, it is important when creating long term arrangements with companies to also include provisions for monitoring and mitigating the impacts these activities might have on the environment. We, like you, want to build an economy based on long term social and economic benefits and opportunities for our people. We, as another First Nation, can share with you our experiences, our successes and lessons learned.

With respect to traditional hunting, fishing and gathering activities on the land, there is a realization of a balance of both our traditional ways and more modern sustainable economic development for our communities. We need to balance the needs of current and future generations for livelihoods which may or may not necessarily be traditional or on the land. Even with those that chose administrative or modern forms of employment, we have experienced their desire to still follow the cycles of the animals and the land. We have incorporated cultural breaks within our work schedules within our communities, and Cree businesses to allow our people to go back to the land for goose, moose, and caribou hunting times. With a similar climate and experiences, we share many things besides our environments and exposure to outside interests in common.

For us, education, health care and social issues are still something we need to address in our communities. Our youth are in need of support, as substance abuse, suicide and high drop out rates are problems we face as a Nation. We have implemented programs with Adult Education to help get our students diplomas, and have worked hard to get a Cree vocational center established to provide our youth with opportunities to learn trades and skills needed in our communities. We have been working on upgrading our clinics and nursing stations with more permanent access to better medical care and treatment. A few years ago realizing the high numbers of people with kidney failure, and how we lost these people to southern hospitals permanently. We had fundraisers, walkathons, and a host of activities to raise enough money to buy a local hospital in our region a machine so our people would be closer to home. We also have regular canoe trips or journeys for people and youth with different struggles. We spend time on the land canoeing or walking the traditional routes our people used for thousands of years, and while on the journey, our Elders and helpers work with them on their struggles. After weeks away, we close most of our businesses and schools to meet them when they return to our communities to welcome them home. It is a celebration for us, and the experience they have on the land will be with them forever. It has great healing powers.

I just wanted to share with you today a few of the things we do back home. At this time I would like to re-affirm our commitment to work with you, and your communities. Currently, our Nation is looking at Cree governance issues over our traditional lands, and what that would entail for more self-determinative powers, but also for greater participation in the economic activities which happen in our region. We have also looked at the idea of supporting a new Cree confederacy of the Cree First Nations beyond provincial borders, and other boundaries, so we can share with each other information and knowledge. I know we all have many issues as Aboriginal peoples in Canada to deal with; however I am very optimistic that when we work together, our Nations will be stronger and we can do much for our people in the future.

More or less my speech was a political one to re-assure that the Cree Nations need to work together, however, in my closing; I would like to encourage you to keep supporting our young people, whom are our greatest resource. Having grown from youth leadership, I am a strong advocate at making sure our young peoples? voice are heard and listened wherever I travel too.

They are our future leaders; however, let me remind everyone that they are here today.

On a daily basis, we need to build them, nurture them, encourage them, lift them when they fall, use words that they need to hear; we learn these teachings from our Elders and Ancestors.

Every person in our communities has an important role to play from our women, our men, our elders, our children, and our youth.

Let our Nations never give up on our future. We have many successes ahead of us. Our Nations have overcome many struggles and yet today, we still stand and are proud of our heritage.

May our Creator God, be with all of you and our Nations.