Community & Cree First Nations
"The Place where People Gather"
The history of the Oujé-Bougoumou Crees throughout the better part of this century is a sad story of abuse, dispossession, and neglect by the combined efforts of mining and forestry companies and successive governments at both the provincial and federal levels.
Our people are the traditional inhabitants of a territory situated in northern Quebec comprised of 1000 square miles which has never been ceded, surrendered or conquered. Our traditional territory includes two non-aboriginal towns which depend almost exclusively on mining and forest industries as their economic base. Our elders retain vivid recollections of the time seventy years ago when some of the earliest mining prospectors entered our territory looking for gold and copper and how our people escorted them to show them interesting rock outcroppings. Of course, we had no idea at the time of the consequences of these people on our territory, consequences both for our people and for the land.
As the identification of mineral deposits intensified, outsiders established mining camps, settlements and towns. The discovery of economically interesting geological formations took precedence over the continued existence of Oujé-Bougoumou villages. We were threatened and coerced into abandoning our village sites which were then bulldozed and destroyed. Through collusion among the mining companies and the Quebec and Canadian governments, we were forced to relocate our villages seven times over fifty years. There was a deliberate policy in place of attempting to make us disappear.
With the last of these relocations in 1970, our people dispersed throughout our territory and established small encampments that consisted of crude, makeshift dwellings, often just simple tent frames. We believed that if our villages could be destroyed so easily at the whims of mining companies and governments, then our territory was also in jeopardy. Our feeling was that we needed to demonstrate our continuing and total occupancy of our territory so that we would not be totally dispossessed of the very basis of our community, our way of life, and our identity as Oujé-Bougoumou Eenou.
But the full force of resource development had begun to be felt. A dozen mines were operating on our land and interfering with the pursuit of our traditional way of life. Clear-cutting occurred on such a scale that a very significant portion of our trees were destroyed, and along with them, the habitat required by the animals upon which we depend.
Our living conditions were terrible. Independent observers compared them as being among the worst in the third world. The non-aboriginal settlements thrived while we, the original and permanent inhabitants of our territory, were completely isolated and marginalized from the economic and political life of the region. We estimate that approximately $4 billion (Canadian) worth of resources have been extracted without our consent or our involvement, and without any benefit to us. Our pleas were ignored.
The non-native communities based on mining and forestry were established and continued to grow and thrive, while we, the original inhabitants, had our minimal pleas for help in re-establishing our village ignored by governments. We, the original inhabitants, the stewards of the land and its resources, had, as a consequence of this perverted form of development, become completely isolated and marginalized from the economic and political life of the region.
In the early 1980's the community decided to initiate yet more vigorous efforts to obtain government cooperation in addressing our concerns. Intensive discussions were begun with representatives of the province of Quebec in 1984, and after several years of these discussions and negotiations an agreement was reached in 1989 whereby Quebec agreed to contribute financially toward the construction of a new village, while also acknowledging a degree of local jurisdiction over a portion of the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree traditional territory. But to obtain the final agreement with Quebec required an enormous effort on the part of our community. Since Quebec was always somewhat reluctant to properly resolve the issue, our community needed to take very drastic measures to make our concerns taken seriously.
In the summer of 1989 we declared our jurisdiction over the territory, blockaded the access road to the village, established our own court where we convicted the provincial and federal governments of breaching their fiduciary obligation to Oujé-Bougoumou, and we physically demonstrated our intention to occupy and govern our traditional territory. Needless to say, we got their attention. By September 1989 we concluded the agreement with Quebec.
After several false starts, a new round of negotiations began in 1990 to secure the financial participation of the federal government in the construction of a new permanent village. These negotiations were concluded when Oujé-Bougoumou and Canada signed the Oujé-Bougoumou/Canada Agreement in May 1992. Tne agreement provided the means by which Canada would contribute financially toward the construction of the Ouje-Bougomou village.
Throughout our negotiations, however, we have never relinquished our claim to jurisdiction over our territory and this remains an unresolved issue.
On the Road to Self-Reliance and economic development
We realize that the viability of our future requires that we embark upon an appropriate and determined effort in the area of economic development. In this respect we are developing projects in the areas of service sector enterprises, sustainable forestry, and culture-based tourism. We have come to the realization that for our future to be secure it will be essential for us to secure the protection and recognition of our traditional access to the lands and resources within our traditional territory. Our capacity to sustain what we have accomplished until now requires it.
Harmony with the Environment
When Europeans first came to North America it was the aboriginal peoples who taught them how to survive here. Without that help they would undoubtedly have perished. It seems to be our fate as aboriginal people to once again teach non-aboriginal people how to live in this environment, in harmony with it and not in conflict with it. Of course this time the stakes are very high. If we do not heed the lessons of examples which show how to build communities without destroying nature, and heed them very well, then the continuation of large scale energy megaprojects and inappropriate exploitation of natural resources threaten us all.
Oujé-Bougoumou is now beginning to look very seriously at developing innovative and creative ways of managing and developing the forest resources around the community. We want to do this from the perspective that the conventional ways of managing and utilizing forest resources, clear-cutting and shipping raw materials south, has been proven to be inappropriate from the point of view of its impact on the environment and also from the perspective of the long-term viability of forestry.
We the Oujé-Bougoumou Eenou have a challenge to develop ways of using the forest resources which are in harmony with the environment and which will sustain our local economy indefinitely. In the same way we are showing the world with our district heating system that it is possible to generate energy in such a way as to be in harmony with the environment and with a view to contributing to the growth and development of our community, we now need to demonstrate that it is possible to do the same thing in the area of forestry. And so we are developing the local skills and the local capacity to make such a vision become a reality.
We plan to become involved in the forestry industry, not as clear-cutters who totally destroy the land and make it uninhabitable for living things, but as caretakers who will harvest smaller amounts from the forest, produce things with the wood to add value, and thereby leave the forest largely intact so that we will be able to continue to pursue our traditional economic activities.
We have observed in recent years that there is a growing recognition and ackowledgment of the important role which Traditional Knowledge should play in the articulation of development planning. This was ackowledged in the Rio Summit on the Environment and has since been promoted by all prominent international bodies.
We realize also that the viability of our future requires that we embark upon an appropriate and determined effort in the area of economic development. It is in this context, and within a philosophy of " sustainable development " that we are developing projects in the areas of service sector enterprises, sustainable forestry, and culture-based tourism.
Our understanding of " sustainable development " has led us to conclude that culture-based tourism can occupy a cornerstone of our future economic development planning. Culture-based tourism is potentially environmentally benign, potentially compatable with our way of life, and potentially beneficial financially.
Our approach in the area of tourism will be to ensure that any experiences which are offered commercially are compatible with our Cree culture.
But what does this mean though pratically?
What will we do to ensure that our culture is not overwhelmed by the influx of people from the outside who may have expectations with respect to their encounter with aboriginal culture which are not realistic?
What can we do to ensure that the process of tourism does not have the unintended consequences of distorting the very thing which we are attempting to preserve - our culture and our environment?
We believe that the answer to these questions lies in our determination to remain true to our own heritage and to be proud of who we are and how we have always lived. It is our view that our cultural tourism products will necessarily be small-scale and intimate. Visitors have the opportunity to have a glimpse of a way of life which is based on maintaining harmony with nature. Our cultural tourism captures subtleties, moods, ambiences and good fellowship in surroundings where confort is measured by the quality of human relationships rather than the newness of material conditions. Elders recite ancient Cree stories in the warmth of a tent with a simple woodstove; visitors travel by foot or by dogsleds to check the snares and traps of Cree hunters; visitors learn about the ways in which the Crees treat the natural environment. As a result, visitors find our cultural tours very profound and moving experiences which some visitors have described as life-changing.
We believe, in fact, that if properly structured, our cultural tourism can also be a source of reinforcement of our traditional culture. By insisting that our tourism products remain authentic and genuine, and by attracting those tourists who are interested in our way of life, we will be sustaining and perpetuating those traditions among our own people.
Our attraction, therefore, include the village itself, a blend of modern technique and traditional shapes, modern technology, and traditional philosophy; and the traditional practices and way of life of the Cree people.
Guides and Cree cultural teachers, Anna and David Bosum, have spent most of their lives on the trap-line. Now they enjoy sharing their wealth of Cree culture and outdoor knowledge, and welcome visitors to come and experience Oujé-Bougoumou!
Tourism activities include cultural tours, snowmobile expeditions, and village-based tours. Evenings in the Cree Cultural Village can be a special treat with teachings by a woman knowledgable about traditional medicine and elders such as the former Chief, Jimmy Mianscum.
David Bosum guides groups on Lake Opemiska where he demonstrates fishing, hunting, and trapping practices. David notes that it is often the "first time they see a native out hunting. They really enjoyed it and they want to come back again next year." Like all outdoorspeople here, David can provide details of the local wildlife and forests, and the impacts that forestry and mining developments have had on the area.
In the summer, visitors can swim, canoe, hike, or just unwind on the beach. If you want to fish on Lake Opemiska, fishing licenses can be purchased in Chibougamau.
To date, expedition packages have been arranged by cultural coordinator Daniel Bosum, who is David and Anna's Son. Daniel organizes cultural activities, events and excursions. He is responsible for the ongoing development of the Cultural Village, in which each structure and item has ancestral and functional significance. In addition, David & Anna takes individuals or Groups on excursions in the bush for cultural excursions.
Daniel is involved with organizing the annual Goose Festivals, held in mid-June. Activities included talent night, a goose calling contest, canoeing, woodcutting, bannock-making and tea-boiling.
While fiddle dancing is more popular in Oujé-Bougoumou. Daniel works ahead of time for guests by organizing traditional meals.
Beaver, goose, duck, and moose roasted over a fire on spruce sticks; fresh trout, roasted or fried bannock, Cree dumplings, and sweet Indian-style donuts for dessert are among the local delicacies.
Visitors are likely to find the necessities of home in Casey's Depanneur. The staff prepared for a French snowmobiling expedition by stocking up on Perrier water, to the delight of European guests. As the manager explains, "I work closely with the cultural coordinator and the economic development agent." A coordinated effort is the key to excellent service.
Development of Community Crafts and Other Small Industries
There are plans in progress to further develop our expedition and cultural packages, to build nature trails, and maybe to open the community gatehouse as a tourist information center. A growing tourism industry in Oujé-Bougoumou will offer local artisans the opportunity to develop their work. Our mocassins are already featured in the mail order catalogue of the magazine, Canadian Geographic.
Community Services for Social Development
Community members have indicated that with the frequency of forced relocations and the progressive dispossession and marginalization of the Oujé-Bougoumou Crees in the past, they began to exhibit some of the social problems typically associated with poverty and political powerlessness. These phenomena have declined with substantial developments related to the establishment of the new Oujé-Bougoumou village and the associated political and spiritual development of the members. These problems, nevertheless, continue to some degree and are of concern to the Oujé-Bougoumou leadership.
Within this village we are creating the conditions which enable us to address the problems which destroy people's sense of stability and security, destroy their sense of belonging anywhere, and which make them feel totally vulnerable to uncontrollable forces. Although our objective has been to build a village in harmony with our traditional values, it is nonetheless a rather new and certainly very different environment which we are creating for our people with new requirements, new responsibilities and a new rhythm to everyday life. The spontaneity which characterized much of our day-to-day life will need to make room for, and accommodate, the requirements of maintaining and operating a modern village. Whereas our previous responsibilities were focussed on the maintenance of our families and close relatives we will now need to incorporate our new responsibilities which entail the maintenance of an entire village. The obligations which we now feel as individuals toward our families will need to make room for new obligations which we have toward the various community agencies and organizations which are located in the new village to provide community services.
We do not pretend that accommodating these changes will be smooth or automatic. Significantly altering a way of life, even if that change is desirable and controlled, always carries with it some turbulence. Community leaders initiated a series of workshops to address the issues related to the orientation of our members to their new surroundings. The objective was to provide our people with some tools to cope with the turbulence associated with the new environment we are creating. The workshops covered the major areas of community life, informing members of the changes and new responsibilities which lie ahead in those areas; and encouraged members to identify ways in which they could become directly involved so that they would be able to exercise some control over the coming changes. The orientation sessions focussed on the areas of housing, education, health and social services, policing and justice, and economic development.
When we embarked on our journey of reunification many years ago we committed ourselves to struggling together to overcome the obstacles to our having a permanent village. In making that commitment we, at the same time, also committed ourselves and our families to live side by side with each other for generation after generation. Although we may not even have been aware of it at the time, we committed ourselves to accepting each other as part of our own families. By committing ourselves to restore our sense of community we, in effect, agreed to treat ourselves as one family for the rest of our future. The challenge before us now is to express that commitment in every aspect of our community life. In our political struggles we have been victors, in our village construction we have been daring innovators, and now we must become nation-builders.
The Healing Center symbolizes the source of our healing, even though we know that our healing takes place throughout our territory, not only in a clinical setting but also in our homes, in our families, on the land, and in the way we conduct ourselves in our offices. Healing takes place in the way we take care of ourselves, and the way in which we take care of each other as a community.
It has been well known for too many years that current approaches to justice systems - as they apply to Aboriginal peoples in Canada are absolutely inappropriate to the cultures, traditions, beliefs and wishes of Aboriginal peoples. These systems of justice are imposed upon Aboriginal peoples, rather than derived from their own societies. They can be said to compound, rather than diminish, the many injustices and difficulties facing them as peoples in their personal and collective lives.
Current approaches to the administration of justice applied to the Oujé-Bougoumou people are "alienating, often inappropriate, and inconsistent in many ways with the needs and aspirations of the community". The Oujé-Bougoumou people have the inherent right to govern themselves. The right to administer our own justice system is clearly a part of this inherent right.
Oujé-Bougoumou is now exploring new approaches to justice in the community, and is encouraged by the cooperation of senior elected Quebec and federal elected government officials, and judicial representatives, who have indicated a willingness to implement new approaches to aboriginal justice in the context of"communities of excellence" such as Oujé-Bougoumou.
Essential features of an Oujé-Bougoumou justice system will be:
The proposed Oujé-Bougoumou justice system will be respectful of the dignity, wisdom, and human rights including the right to self-determination of the Oujé-Bougoumou people. Likewise, the process by which it is developed, will be equally respectful of these values.
Innovation where necessary; build on others' experience.
The process will be innovative to meet Oujé-Bougoumou needs, but it will also build on the constructive experience of other Aboriginal peoples in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.
Sensitivity and appropriateness.
The process will be fully sensitive to the needs, wishes and aspirations of the Oujé-Bougoumou people.
Capacity for development and growth
The proposed Oujé-Bougoumou justice system will be comprehensive and far-reaching, so that it incorporates long-term goals without the need for re-design or massive renegotiation.
The process of developing an Oujé-Bougoumou justice proposal will be flexible, so that if changes are necessary to meet particular situations, it is not constrained by a written-down plan.
The Oujé-Bougoumou justice proposal itself will be flexible, so that as community needs and capacities develop, the system itself is capable of development and change. It will also be capable of being "phased in", so that Oujé-Bougoumou undertakes successive developmental steps when it is ready and according to its own abilities and capacities.
Holistic, societal approach; a catalyst for community healing and health.
A new and appropriate justice system is essential for Oujé-Bougoumou. But such a system cannot be a cure-all, especially if it is undertaken in isolation. It can, however, be a "catalyst" for constructive development and
change beyond the boundaries of the strict confines of justice concerns.
The Chief and people of Oujé-Bougoumou have made clear that we wish our community to heal and become healthy. For this reason, a proposed new Oujé-Bougoumou justice system will take a holistic approach. Its goals will be fully compatible with those of all other key sectors of Oujé-Bougoumou society, such as health, education, social services, and youth protection.
Legitimacy and recognition.
For a justice system to work for, rather than against the people it serves, it must "belong" to them. For this reason, it will be critical that the Oujé-Bougoumou justice system enjoy legitimacy and respect among the people of Oujé-Bougoumou.
Oujé-Bougoumou derived, designed and controlled.
The new justice system for Oujé-Bougoumou will be derived, designed and controlled by Oujé-Bougoumou to the greatest extent possible. For this reason, the process by which it is developed will be open, inclusive, and fully controlled by the leadership and people of Oujé-Bougoumou.
Preserving Our Cultural Identity
The communities of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Astchee, guided by their elders, have decided that there will be a building to be located in Oujé-Bougoumou which will house all the existing agencies which currently provide programming in the areas of culture and language preservation. There will additionally be facilities for exhibiting historical artifacts and art reflecting Cree culture. In Cree, the new Institute is called Anischaaugamikw which means "the handing down from one generation to the next".
View Mistissini website: http://www.mistissini.ca/
HOME OF THE LARGEST FRESH WATER LAKE IN QUEBEC
Culture and history
Long before the arrival of the European settlers, Mistissini Crees were surrounded by the forests, lakes and streams of North Central Quebec and for centuries, these resources have provided the staples of their economic and cultural subsistence: fur, fish, and game. Hunting, gathering, fishing and trapping have been a major part of Cree seasonal pursuits for generations, and many of these traditions continue today. The Cree language is spoken often in this region, and Cree syllabary is in use throughout the community.
Mistissini, Cree for "big rock", was formerly referred to as Mistassini or Baie du Poste. Developing in the 1800s with a Hudson Bay Company fur trading post, throughout the 1900s with government assistance and in 1975 with the James Bay Agreement, the region has expanded into a vibrant community of 3,500 Cree, English and French speakers. The Mistissini Crees cherish their rich cultural heritage, vital present and vibrant future.
The Crees of Mistissini have resided in the Mistassini Lake area since time immemorial. In the early 1800's, the community of Mistissini's actual location was just a summer encampment due to the establishment of the Hudson Bay Company fur trading post on sight. The North West Company and other fur traders were also in the vicinity and can be considered contenders in the fur trade with the Hudson Bay Company in those days.
Mr. Coonishish was assigned to the following portfolios:
- Culture, Language & Traditional Knowledge
Mr. Conishish was assigned the following portfolios.
- Health & Social
- Community Development & Infrastructure
Mr. Iserhoff was assigned the following portfolios:
- Education & Training
Mr. Longchap was assigned to the following portfolios:
- Economic Development
- Culture, Language & Traditional Knowledge
Maggie M. Spencer
Mrs. Spencer was assigned to the following portfolios:
Mr. Macleod was assigned to the following portfolios:
- Economic Development
- Community Development & Infrastructure
Mr. Matoush was assigned the following portfolios.
Mr. Shecapio was assigned to the following portfolios:
- Education & Training
Ms. Trapper was assigned to the following portfolios:
- Health & Social