Delegates at the Cree Nation Government’s Summit on Building Capacity for Eeyou Istchee heard a message loud and clear: collaboration and education are key to our success as a Nation. From Grand Chief Abel Bosum's opening and closing mantra - "If there are no big dreams, there are no accomplishments," to the Cree School Board's call to collaborative action, to Youth Grand Chief Kaitlynn Hester's moving remarks - "We want you to move, to act - we want you to walk the talk" - the atmosphere at the Sheraton Centre in Montreal on October 23 and 24, 2019 was filled with hope, dedication, and collaboration.
“This is our time."
Approximately 150 delegates, including the Chiefs and Councilors from the 11 Cree communities and regional leadership, gathered for a packed two-day summit to share information and brainstorm ways to strengthen our local and regional capacity building.
Embraced at either end with the mobilizing words of the Grand Chief, participants also heard about the many current and future career opportunities in the Cree Nation - mining, energy, business entrepreneurship, construction, and the promise of 600 new positions under the Cree Health Board over the next five years.
"This is our time; everyone needs to dream big," Bosum said, adding that, as a growing Nation, there should be no place for unemployment. Everyone has a role to play. He encouraged entities to inspire youth to these roles, and also to create smooth accessible paths for youth to achieve success.
"It takes a community."
“Youth need to be guided to have a sense of purpose,” said CSB Director General Abraham Jolly, who agreed that the Summit was a great way to help young people root themselves in the Cree reality as the starting point for them to develop their sense of purpose. Cree Health Board chairperson, Bella Petawabano agreed, saying, “it takes a community to encourage our students to engage.”
During a Cree Café style break-out session, delegates discussed four themes- employment, unlocking wealth, youth engagement & achievement, and vocational & adult education. These round-table discussions will be summarized in a report, which will include Calls-to-Action.
Delegates also heard two community success stories, including from Eastmain. Band Councilor Daniel Mark-Stewart acknowledged one key to their high graduate success rate is that they recruit teachers with compassion and the school has a great communication plan that includes parental involvement - they had 200 parents at one Parent-Teacher night! Eastmain parents expect their children to graduate and succeed, Mark-Stewart said, and Eastmain's school has a zero drop-out rate.
"The future of our people relies on the quality of our education."
Philip Awashish, an original signatory to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, spoke during a an audience question period about the original vision and intent of the agreement and about what he sees as a renewed attention to our future as a Nation - a "resurgence," he called it - an empowerment, rising up from poverty and healing through reconciliation. And the foundation remains as it was in 1975.
"The future of our people relies on the quality of our education," he said.
This notion was underscored by Cree Negotiator Murdoch, who was presenting on a Free Trade agreement, he said education is the "key factor" in determining access to future opportunities. He added that entities should promote and support training as part of career development.
"It's going to take all of us."
One message stood out among the many: in the words of Jolly, "it's going to take all of us coming together to build capacity." As the event drew to a close, there was a strong sense of renewed commitment to collaboration and excitement about the future as a Cree Nation where every entity has a role to play and play it well.
“I am more than a youth Grand Chief; I am the future of this Nation. We are the ones who will follow through with this capacity building." - Kaitlynn Hester, Youth Grand Chief