Governance, to me, is about building a nation. It’s about empowering people to take responsibility in their communities. It’s about educating and encouraging leaders or providing tools and guidance for those who don’t want to take a leadership role.
At Muskeg Lake, we have two forms of governance: our community and our corporate structure. The overarching constitution that governs all we do is Cree Law. We build on the wisdom of our elders and what they remember, respecting them and relying upon their knowledge of our history, language and culture.
Former leaders of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation have been able to bring people together at a grassroots level and connect them with people in government and business institutions to build the framework we have today. This includes the Treaty Land Entitlement Trust, the Police Management Board and community membership.
Looking outside our community, the biggest problem across the country we see with First Nations communities is governance. This is because not only do the leaders influence the direction of the community, but also the people—we are all stewards of public trust.
Governance means building a foundation—a legal framework—that includes Cree Law. Paramount to governance is our language, customs, culture and traditions. Inside all of these is the value system that we have as Cree people. Prior to European governance, everyone had a role and a responsibility, and now that is what we are trying to get back to by returning to our Cree value system. We need to deeply understand and celebrate who we are, where we come from, and how we live with one another—with respect, appreciation and love—for we have not just one moshum and kokum, we have many who are our kin.
We are setting a new standard on the economic development side of governance by establishing a development corporation to house and organize all of our business instruments. A percentage of the profits is reinvested into the community and into new business to secure our future.
Finally, we want to be accountable and transparent, and we want to communicate effectively to everyone. Because our members are spread out across the province and country, this is no small task; 85% of our members live off reserve. We have face-to-face meetings with our members twice a year and constantly send out information. Our wish is to share wisdom that unites us, rather than let gossip divide us, to sit down and break bread with one another and have two-way communication about the issues that affect us all.
By establishing a strong governance framework for Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, we are setting in motion laws for our community that are built on, and protected by, Cree Law. For me, governance has always been about the people, about giving power back to the people by offering education and by helping them envision what is possible. I invite you to step forward, respect and appreciate one another, and build this community—your community. In this way, we will build our future together.
– Chief Cliff Tawpisin Jr.