IMPROVING THE LIVES OF THE CREE PEOPLE OF MISTISSINI AND OF THE CREE TERRITORY
By Anna Guy
Creating strong relationships between community and industry to foster economic growth and opportunities in the Cree Territory
Companies and individuals familiar with the development of Northern Quebec will know the Eskan company and its group of subsidiaries; companies who’ve had success developing the area have more than likely worked with the group. Since the early 1990s, the Eskan Company (formally known as Mistco Ventures) have been a major player in the area’s resource industries, working with mining companies like Stornoway Diamond Corporation; government agencies like the Transport Quebec; public utilities like Hydro-Quebec; forestry corporations like Chantiers Chibougamau; Cree agencies like the Cree School Board, Cree Health Board, and the Cree Nation of Mistissini itself; and numerous other local and outside enterprises, agencies, and contractors.
The Cree Nation of Mistissini is one of nine Cree communities located in Quebec’s North. Mistissini itself is situated on the banks of Lake Mistissini—Quebec’s largest fresh water lake—where Mistissini Cree have resided since time immemorial. “Although the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has ushered in a series of development undertakings since it’s signing in 1975 (mostly notably the James Bay Hydro Electric Project), Mistissini Cree maintain a rich cultural history and help to continually and collaboratively shape the future of the community, the people, and the Cree Nation as whole,” says Matthew Wapachee, President, Eskan Company.
Wapachee describes Eskan’s origins as “humble”, when Mistco Ventures, a business development entity formed by the Cree Nation of Mistissini, the vision of procuring and employing the local workforce on undertakings within the territory was formed. Reinventing itself to Eskan Company in 2003, the company re-emerged with a more refined operational plan, vision, and mission. As a result, Misto activities were phased out and assets were transferred to Eskan, and the Eskan mandate was realized: “To be recognized within and outside our community as a self-sustained, community-owned corporation that is a united front of its people. To be recognized as a leader. To be the employer and partner of choice. To create sustainable jobs and a qualified workforce.”
Expertise in the resource sector
Today, Eskan’s years of experience lends itself to “variety of domains spread across our respective subsidiaries,” says Wapachee. Divided into four main divisions (Eskan Company, Eenatuk Forestry Coporation, Makaahiikan Construction, and Ae Hardware), Eskan delivers in Project administration, remote site management, catering and janitorial services, forestry work, residential and commercial construction, and retail hardware, electronics, home and office furnishing, and more. Through its diverse offerings, Eskan is the premier partner for companies both private and public, having been active in these areas for over 40 years.
Eskan has a strong network of both specialized and non-specialized human resources to assist local contractors. “As a business development entity servicing the Cree Nation and abroad, we have a commitment to employing our local workforce in an effort to enhance community development and economic prosperity for our people,” says Wapachee. As a result, Eskan has fostered an impressive, knowledgeable, and 100 per cent-Cree human resources department to handle recruitment, respond to employment-related needs, assess employee performance, compile and report applicable government documentation, coordinate employee logistics, and steer many other HR-related administrative responsibilities.
“The Eskan Company is owned by the people of Mistissini,” continues Wapachee. “As such, we have a commitment to develop our community—be it through jobs, initiatives, training, etc. Eskan continually seeks new business opportunities in an effort to build capacity in the local workforce and locally-owned enterprises. Using the previous four years as a sample, we have injected approximately $17 million into the local economy and have created and helped sustain multiple jobs along the way. From the contracts we procure, to the relationships we forge, to the workers we provide opportunities, we try, and have succeeded, with great vigor and pride to integrate Cree-owned business and the Mistissini community within our operations.”
Being an Aboriginal enterprise, Eskan realizes the importance and cultural significance of environmental stewardship in a world that is gravitating toward greater recognition of sustainable development, says Wapachee. “Within our operations and on our projects, we function with a strong regard for environmental ethics and attempt to use locally sourced and sustainable materials where possible. We comply with all environmental regulations, consult with local tallymen should they be impacted, and have been exploring opportunities to enter into the environmental sector with the intention of bridging the traditional ecological knowledge held by our community and the technical competencies of modern science.”