With a territory of more than 450,000 square kilometres, connecting Cree voters in the James Bay region of Quebec with the candidates vying for their vote in the current Grand Chief election can be a challenging task.
On Tuesday July 4, the James Bay Cree Communications Society and the Cree unit of CBC North are teaming up to present a live candidates forum in Mistissini, in the Cree language, to help them connect.
“This gives [voters] an opportunity to hear everyone, which is not always possible,” said Luke MacLeod, executive director of JBCCS, a Cree-language broadcaster serving the nine communities of James Bay. “And also to give [voters] an opportunity to participate by submitting questions that they think should be asked.”
Five candidates are running to replace current Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, who surprised many earlier this month by announcing he would not be seeking re-election after 40 years of public life.
The candidates this time around are:
- Abel Bosum, who spent many years as the Cree Nation Government’s chief Quebec negotiator and is the former chief of Oujé-Bougoumou.
- Darlene Cheechoo, who in 2015 became the first woman elected chief in Waskaganish and is the former head of the Cree government’s investment wing.
- Ashley Iserhoff, who served two terms as deputy grand chief.
- Rodney Mark, who is the current deputy grand chief and was also chief of Wemindji.
- Richard Shecapio, long-time chief of the second largest Cree community, Mistissini.
In an online survey circulated by JBCCS and CBC North in the lead-up to the event, voters identified housing, education and economic development as some of the most important issues for them in this election, according to Jaime Little, a coordinating producer with CBC North. People have also been invited to submit questions for the Grand Chief candidates.
“The range of questions is huge, from resource extraction to language preservation to leadership style,” said Little.
The event marks the first time JBCCS and CBC have collaborated on an all-candidates forum, which Little says “has allowed us to pool our ideas, our resources and our journalistic strengths and present a truly unique event.”
More than 13,000 people are eligible to vote in the upcoming election. The live candidates forum will get underway Tuesday, July 4 at 7 p.m. from the Neoskweskau Sports Complex in Mistissini. The event will be live streamed on the Cree Media CBC Facebook page.