Quebec race heats up to head Grand Council of the Crees

The race for Grand Chief of Quebec's Grand Council of the Crees will be decided in 3 weeks.

Election for Grand Chief on July 15

Cree businessman Jack Blacksmith (left) is running against deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff (centre) and Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come to head the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec. (CBC)

The race for Grand Chief of Quebec's Grand Council of the Crees will be decided on July 15.

The youthful deputy chief, Ashley Iserhoff, is taking on veteran Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and businessman Jack Blacksmith, in a contest focused on economic development and opportunities for the Cree community's burgeoning population of young people.

All three candidates for the grand chief's position debated the issues in Cree and in English yesterday during a visit to CBC Montreal.

Iserhoff, a longtime advocate for Cree youth, said he's ready to be leader and believes he can be the voice of change.

"People want to see things operate differently," he said. "We have to depend on ourselves now, rather than depending on people from the outside, in terms of consultants."

"I thought it was important for the voice of a younger generation to start leading."

Blacksmith, president of the Cree Mineral Exploration Board, is also focusing on young people, who make up more than a third of the population of Quebec's 18,000 Crees.

Blacksmith wants to create stable job opportunities in sectors such as forestry and tourism.

"They say the economies in Canada, small business represents about 70 per cent and 30 per cent by the government, for employment purposes," Blacksmith explained. "Ours is the other way around: about 70 per cent government, 30 per cent economic development. That has to change."

Current Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come helped shepherd through the adoption of Quebec's Bill 42, legislation passed by the PQ government which he believes will allow the Cree Nation to be a full partner in resource development in northern Quebec.

"We are ready," Coon Come says. "We have our own projects, but I think the government knows you need essential economic infrastructure if you want to stimulate the economy up north."