The Grand Council of the Crees

Brief Comments by Grand Chief Matthew Mukash for the Supper on March 12

At the Conference on Construction Val d'Or

Posted: 2009-03-12

Matthew Mukash and Mike Holmes

At the Conference on Construction Val d'Or

It has been a pleasure to co-host this conference with Mayor Fernand Trahan, and I hope you have enjoyed the first day of this conference as I have.

This evening we have a very special guest, whom I will introduce later on. But first, I want to say that we Crees have a particular view of housing that is probably not shared by the wider society or even known about outside of our communities. This view is influenced by the way our Ancestors lived in the time before the Europeans came to our homeland.

In the pre-fur trade era, the tepee or meechwaap'h - as we call it - was the common form of shelter from the elements. Except for the structural components, it was transportable. The main structural components were reusable, that is, if you returned to the same camping area from time to time. The meechwaap'h was made of biodegradable local materials. It had a central heating system that also served to keep the black flies down in the summer. As families grew larger, we added new units or enlarged the structure. The meechwaap'h had several variations. In some cases, it was made out of full or split logs and covered with moss to insulate and water-proof it. Such structure served as a semi-permanent structure. In other cases, we adjusted the structure by using more flexible uprights that were bent over to form a dome-shape for the warmer months. We called such shelter "midodsangaamuk'h. We were and still are very conscious about importance of protecting the environment. Our building materials then did not pollute the environment.

When Europeans first came to our homeland we remarked that these people did not appear to be enthusiasts of the outdoors. They closed themselves in box-shaped structures and did whatever work (and play) they did inside. We called the Europeans wemstigooshewich or the "shaped wood people", recalling the curiously shaped wooden ships that they arrived in. We called their square-shaped homes "waskahigan", which literally means "the structure you enclose yourself in". When they were not satisfied with one enclosure they made another one around the first, which they called a "stockade". Over time, we learned to appreciate the lifestyle they introduced to us. Today, most, if not all Crees, live in these "waskahigan" style dwellings.

It was only some forty or so years ago that our people began moving into these waskahigan. The type of houses that we received from the federal government has changed over time. At first, our houses had no running water connected. Later, although housing has improved over time, we have had numerous problems with our housing units. Today, for instance, due of our fast growing population there is a huge housing backlog in Eeyou Istchee. As well, there are problems not only arising from overcrowding but problems related to design and poorly constructed houses. Moreover, because of extreme cold temperatures outside during the long winter months, we have had mould problems in our houses, causing respiratory and other medical conditions in our People.

During the very cold winter months it is evident that the technology of modern house building is at its limit in our communities. Cold air often seeps through concrete walls of the basement, and our furnaces are barely adequate to evenly distribute heating throughout the house. The doors and windows are quickly worn out and become drafty. Lately, we have discovered that houses that were built in accordance with standard building codes are ones that often need repairs and renovations. It is estimated that on the average such housing units require major renovations after 20 years.

In the recent past, we've been engaged in near full-scale community development. We are putting plans together to build, among others - community centers, court houses, police headquarters, community office buildings, stores, municipal garages, day care facilities, schools and medical facilities. This coming year we intend to build more houses and infrastructure to support community development in Eeyou Istchee. It is a good time to be in the construction industry.

Looking to the future, we must ensure that construction projects are carried out effectively, efficiently and with great care, making sure that we do things right. How will we do this? Well, ladies and gentlemen, it so happens that we have Mr. Make-it-Right with us here in this conference to give us good tips - not only on how we can improve in the way we do construction projects - but as well, on what we could do to train our young labour force to take on the challenge ahead. Mike Holmes, as you know, is a household name here in Canada and is also becoming a household name in the United States and others parts of our beloved planet. We are fortunate to have him as our keynote speaker this evening.

Mike makes a career of being a pronounced builder, giving advice on good construction in the housing industry. If any of you watch his shows on television, he says when he decides to take on a job, he is there to "Make It Right".

Mike Holmes has been down working in New Orleans in the Lower Ninth Ward, building houses with Brad Pitt to help rebuild the neighbourhood after Hurricane Katrina flooded the whole community, washing away houses.

The Canadian House of Commons has recognized Mike for his promotion of skilled trades in Canada and because he supports improved building standards. In 2008, he was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate of Technology by the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Mike Holmes is a family man who is raising three children, something that in my view, allows him to understand the situations of many of those who he has helped over the years. He started his first company at the age of 19 years old, and then a successful television program called "Holmes on Homes" that is seen in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Germany.

I would like to extend an invitation to Mr. Holmes on behalf of the Cree Nation to come to our communities.

Now, it is with great respect that I ask you to please welcome Canada's most trusted contractor and an expert on quality work in the construction industry – Mr. Making It Right: Mike Holmes!

GRAND CHIEF MATTHEW MUKASH