Cree Nation Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come not vying for re-election

After 40 years of public life, the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, has announced via social media that he will not be seeking re-election later this summer.

Coon Come spent more than 30 years in Indigenous politics

After 40 years of public life, Matthew Coon Come, the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, will not be seeking re-election this summer. (CBC)

After 40 years of public life, Matthew Coon Come, the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, has announced via social media that he will not be seeking re-election later this summer. 

"On behalf of my family, l want to thank our Cree people of Eeyou Istchee for giving me the privilege and honour to represent our Cree Nation for this long," Coon Come wrote in a short statement Tuesday.

He said just to be nominated for public office is "a great honour."

"My God, continue to bless our [Cree] Nation," he wrote.

More than 30 of his years in Indigenous politics have been with the Cree Nation, first as a band councillor and chief in his home community of Mistissini, Que., and most recently as the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.

Coon Come was the driving force behind the provincial inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people, after widespread allegations of abuse by police in and around Val-d'Or, Que., came to light in 2015. 

The inquiry on how Quebec treats Indigenous people began in Val-d'Or earlier this week

"It has been a privilege and a great honour to have sat by your side throughout the unprecedented battle for true justice for the Indigenous Women of Val-d'Or, our Sisters," wrote Edith Cloutier, the executive director for the Val d'Or Native Friendship Centre, to Chief Coon Come.

"Your leadership and political courage has contributed to the healing journey for each one of those strong women. You are an artisan of reconciliation, a great leader and a good man." 

'Leadership means sacrifice'

Coon Come was first elected Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees and Chairman of the Cree Regional Authority in 1987.

As Grand Chief in the early 1990s, Coon Come was a key figure in a successful campaign to stop the second phase of the James Bay hydroelectric project. The development would have flooded Cree and Inuit territory along the Great Whale River near the communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik. 

"We are the victims of environmental racism," Coon Come said at the time, as 60 Inuit and Cree from Northern Quebec set out to paddle a canoe-kayak hybrid known as the Odeyak into New York City to protest the project.

In 1994, Coon Come was awarded the Goldman Environment Prize for those efforts.

Cree and Inuit from Northern Quebec travelled more than 2,000 kilometres over five weeks, by dogsled on the frozen bay, by road and by river, all the way to downtown Manhattan in a campaign against the proposed damming of the Great Whale River. (Cree Cultural Institute)

Another of Coon Come's more recent accomplishments is the creation of the Eeyou Istchee-James Bay Regional Government, which saw the establishment of a joint Cree-Jamesian government and gave Cree more control over areas near their communities, known as category 2 and 3 lands. 

"You gave your heart to the people and dedicated your life to Eeyou Istchee," wrote Virginia Wabano, former president of the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association, in response to Coon Come's announcement. "You gave up many opportunities and many aspects of your personal life...'Leadership means sacrifice:' Your sacrifice is acknowledged and appreciated. Meegwetch Grand Chief."

During his last months in office, Coon Come also pushed for the ratification of a draft governance agreement and a constitution for the Cree Nation, documents which need the approval of the Quebec and federal governments.

Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, and Quebec premier Philippe Couillard. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)