March 5,1998

Cree community managers come to Concordia for business know-how

Michel Dobie

A dozen casually dressed people emerge from a conference room on the fourth floor of the Guy Métro Building for their break, chatting about Wag the Dog and Bill Clinton.
A few minutes later, the coffee has been drunk and the snacks eaten. "Okay, let's go and do it! says Professor Tom O'Connell, and the students file in after him.
These students have come from farther away than most all the way from nine Cree communities in northern Quebec. They are in Montreal for a week of seminars on conflict management given by the Concordia Centre for Small Business and Entrepreneurial Studies and the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute.
It is the second of five seminars for Cree community administrators on such issues as Ofinancial management and Control and Eentrepreneurship and resource allocation. The series ends in April.
Maria Kawapit is from Whapmagoostui First Nation, a small town of about 1,500 people and the northernmost Cree community. Like the other students in her group, she has been working in her community as an economic development officer (EDO) for several years.
As an EDO, I help people who are business-minded and entrepreneurial, Kawapit said during the break. "I help them get the information and resources they need, like creating business plans and finding financing. This program really helps, because we get to do case studies and role-playing. Alfred Loon, who works out of Montreal as an economic development officer with the Cree Regional Authority, agreed that the simulation of real-life situations is a key advantage.
Some students play the council, others play the entrepreneurs," he said. The negotiations accurately reflect real-life situations. Loon, who is from Mistassini, is a Concordia alumnus (BA in Economics, 1993). His job is to work with people like Kawapit in the various communities.
"I wanted to see more training to make their jobs easier," Loon said. "That's why we approached Concordia to develop a training program geared to the needs of the EDOs. It's pretty much customized."
The Cree Regional Development Authority expressed their training needs, and a pilot program of seminars was conducted from February to June 1997 with the directors of operations and the treasurers of nine Cree communities in northern Quebec.
Bakr Ibrahim is Associate Dean of the Faculty, and Director of the Centre for Small Business and Entrepreneurial Studies. "The first round of seminars was successful," he said. "We certainly learned a lot about Cree culture. Now we're in a better position to serve them."
Clarence Bayne, director of two diploma programs in public and para-public administration, was also involved in launching the program.
"We have a feedback mechanism to make the program more relevant," he said. "At the end of the first series last year we had a big open table talk about everything. The feedback was good, but some changes were necessary, like making the manual good for reference after the course, and using more examples specific to the Cree situation. It's an interactive process. The participants help shape things. with the economic development officers, and a third round is being negotiated to help Cree entrepreneurs start and maintain small businesses.
The Cree are trying to diversify beyond the economy of hydro, lumber and hunting and trapping, and Concordia wants to help take them there. "With the infringement of the outer world, the world of the blind market, the Cree have no choice but to deal with the changing environment," Bayne said.
Copyright 1998 Thursday Report
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