The180

Hope on the other side of James Bay: why one Cree elder sees an opportunity in Attawapiskat

After Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency this month, many have suggested it's time for the area's Cree people to leave. But Rodney Mark says moving isn't the answer In fact, he says the situation in Attawapiskat is an opportunity.
Teen boys throw rocks in the northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat, Ont., on Monday, April 16, 2016. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
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The Ontario Cree of community of Attawapiskat  declared a state of emergency this month after 11 people tried to commit suicide in a single night. 

Over the last decade, local leaders have declared four states of emergency and this most recent one has prompted many to question whether it's time for the people of Attawapiskat to move

But where many see a hopeless crisis, Rodney Mark sees an opportunity. 

To me it's a real opportunity to invest in northern development.- Rodney Mark

Mark, the Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of Crees in Quebec, says on his side of James Bay, Cree people are thriving. 

It's due largely, Mark says, to the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, which empowered people to participate in resource development and simultaneously maintain a Cree lifestyle. 
    


Mark says the change won't happen quickly and will also need look at fundamental economic drivers like resources. 
  

They need resources and they need to be given the autonomy to exercise a planning process of their communities and really try to integrate their identity into all these things- Rodney Mark

But he also says it won't be a fast process. 

We see these things happening and we want to fix it right away. And all these things have percolated for a couple of generations and I think we need to sit down and say how can we put down the seeds so something good comes out of it?- Rodney Mark