Cree Nation Bears Hockey benched for 2019-2020 as funding cut
Organization loses 75 per cent of its operating budget for next season
The organizers of the Cree Nation Bears hockey program in the James Bay region of Quebec say they must suspend the full program for the 2019-2020 season after losing a significant part of their operating budget.
The president of the Eeyou Istchee Sports and Recreation Association made the announcement last week, saying the move was necessary after losing $375,000 in funding from the Board of Compensation, a body set up to manage funds flowing from the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
"It is a disappointment," said Raymond Shanoush. "[It] put us in a situation where we couldn't afford to field these teams for 2019 and 2020 season."
The organization couldn't afford to run its full program of regular season Pee Wee BB, Bantam BB and Midget BB teams after losing 75 per cent cut of its overall budget of $500,000, Shanoush said.
More than a hockey program
In operation since 2004, the Cree Nation Bears are much more than a hockey program, according to Shanoush, and for many Cree youth, the program has been key to success in other fields.
"It's very important. [Our programming is] tied to the Cree School Board in terms of eligibility to play and the development process," said Shanoush. "We want to make sure that our athletes are well trained so they can move up to the next level and that's the key."
It is a disappointment.- Raymond Shanoush, Eeyou Istchee Sports
Shanoush says the association plans to put together all-star teams at each level and play in two federated tournaments in the Hockey Abitibi-Témiscamingue league, as well as the regional championships.
The all-star teams will be formed from the teams playing in the James Bay Minor Hockey League.
"This will allow the Eeyou Istchee Sports and Recreation Association to keep a foot in the door with Hockey Abitibi-Témiscamingue," said a release from the association, adding it will also allow for the continued development of certain players and "inject significant energies" into the James Bay Minor Hockey League, where the Cree Nation Bear players largely come from.
Market downturn: Board of Compensation
The Board of Compensation Chairperson Derrick Neeposh said in an email response, that the cut to Cree Nation Bears hockey was part of a larger round of cuts made necessary by a downturn in the markets.
"Due to the poor performance of the stock market at the end of 2018, and the fact that our disbursement policy uses the December 31 figures to determine the amount to be made available for the following fiscal year, the Board of Compensation was not able to grant any funds for 2019-2020," said Neeposh, adding that the Board of Compensation has "consistently granted funds to the Cree Nation Bears" and will consider requests in the future when funds are available.
Shanoush says the association will also spend next season re-evaluating its program and looking at "how can we make it better, how can we make it stronger" and is very committed to looking for other sources of funding.
"We will approach and lobby companies who are doing business in Eeyou Istchee," said Shanoush, adding the association is committed to be back with regular season hockey for the 2020-2021 season.