The Grand Council of the Crees

Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff Speaks at Secondary V Graduation Luke Metaweskum School, Nemaska, Eeyou Istchee

Posted: 2007-08-29

It seems I get invited to speak at many graduations in the last little while, which to me is a good thing. It shows how far we have come over the past few years, in creating an environment for success. I thank you for the invitation, and honour, to be sharing this special day with you, your parents, teachers and community members. It is my pleasure to congratulate you not only on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) but the Cree Nation.

For the past few weeks, I have been on the community tours to discuss the implications of the proposed new relationship with Canada. Much of the deal is about improving relations, creating opportunities for our people, and realizing unfulfilled commitments by the federal government. With new resources we together can build capacity in our communities to address the need for sustainable economic, social and cultural development. Like you, we as a Nation are in a transformation stage where we are looking more internally to build the stronger Nation.

I wish to talk briefly with you about what has happened over the past year in this community. Nemaska has had a few tragedies in the past year which affected you not only as a community, but had particular impacts on this school. First, we had the tragedy of the loss of a life of a young man, Christopher Wapachee. This incident particularly affected the students, teachers and staff who knew this young man personally. My thoughts and prayers, and those of all the families affected, still go out to the family, friends, and community members. The second tragedy of particular relevance to the school and community was of the loss of Elder Andrew Moar who was a member of the School Committee and a member to the Council. My thoughts and prayers go out to this family as well. We must also remember the lessons, the energy and the spirit that they brought to us. We are grateful for the positive contributions and influences they had in our lives and the lives of others. We thank them for this, and the continuing effects of what they have left us. What we do with our time is essential to our growth.

What impressed me so much about Nemaska, since I have been fortunate to spend my time here, is the feeling of community you have. Whenever anything happens you come together and draw from each other's energy. There is a saying about leading our lives by example, and I believe this is essential so our children emulate the positive aspects of us. We must occasionally think about the type of legacy we leave now for the people around us. Positive change comes from the people at your level, and if each one of us commits to improving the world around us - it will improve. Some leaders would come to you and promise change, but the truth is any great change has come from the people themselves. John F. Kennedy was an inspirational president who asked his country to ask not what the country could do for them but what they could do for their country. He knew that if everyone did something good for their country, then together the country could affect positive change in the world.

As you graduates go forth to pursue other things or higher education, remember the support system of family and community you have here. You may accomplish anything you set your mind to, with confidence in yourself, and a good foundation of support by your community and the Cree Nation. After 30 years of failed delivery of the promises in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, we have a proposed agreement with Canada to transfer to us, the Cree Nation, the resources and responsibility to implement those unfulfilled obligations of the government.

In this solution there is recognition of Cree Rights and Interests, and in the capacity of our organizations and Nation to effectively realize longstanding commitments. When the government came in, there was a feeling among Aboriginal peoples that not much would go anywhere on native rights and interest. However, we approached the government with a positive attitude, and with thoughts that we could build a new relationship with government of Canada. So, do not let others stifle your imaginations or limit your goals, when you put your mind towards success, you can accomplish much. I encourage the graduates to not lose focus on your dreams or aspirations. Dare to dream big, as then big things can happen in your life.

I wish you good luck with your next steps from here, and urge you to work towards more education if you can. As your achievements are something no one can take away from you, and benefit more than just you. In our communities we need many different professions - doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, nurses, entrepreneurs, accountants, radiologists, electricians, mechanics, pilots, and so forth. We have started having a leadership forum of all the Cree entities - business, Cree Health Board, Cree School Board, tourism, Each of these leaders looks to increase the number of Cree professionals and people within their organizations.

You can be any of these if you believe in yourself. I know from experience in my life that I don't limit what I can accomplish. I dreamed big, I prepared for big things to happen, and I have realized many of the things I have dreamt I could do. But I have not stopped dreaming about what I can accomplish in my life, and the lives of those around me that I can affect positive change in. Together, we as a people can do whatever we set our minds to. There is an old saying - some say it is native wisdom, others credit it to the Chinese, regardless it says be careful what you wish for as it will come true. Well, there is no problem if we set our minds and wishes to do good things for us, our families, and Nation.

Whatever you do in your life, never give up on your dream because I have faith and hope in all of you.

Meegwetch, and God Bless.