Cree Nation of Chisasibi

Formerly the Island community of Fort George, the Cree Nation of Chisasibi (CNC) is the largest of the Cree coastal communities situated on the eastern coast of James Bay. The community and about 2,000 residents were relocated to the mainland between the years of 1978 to 1980. During relocation, over 200 houses were physically moved and renovated on the new site. Today, Chisasibi has a registered population of over 5,000 members with over 90% of the members living on reserve and 939 housing units including over 224 social housing units, 547 rental units, and 168 individual homeowners. Chisasibi requires an additional 1000 units to resolve the housing crisis.

In 2007, Chisasibi established a loan program for the purposes of financing or refinancing the purchase, construction, or improvement of housing. Homeowner mortgages were combined with a Homeownership Grant Program as an incentive to homeownership.

Since partnering with the Fund in 2014, the CNC has approved and processed 46 housing Loans, 17 alone in 2020 under the Fund’s Credit Enhancement Program. Except for one refinancing loan, all housing loans were for new unit construction and intended for private homeownership. Loan guarantee amounts ranged from approximately $150,000 to $500,000. While minimum down payments are required, some members have exceeded the minimum.  

For new housing construction, Chisasibi takes out a bulk loan and then sells the houses to the members. A grant is available for new construction as an incentive to encourage homeownership and make homeownership more affordable given the remoteness of the community and the cost of materials. The demand for houses is evident as houses are being sold before construction is completed. All houses are built by licensed local contractors from Chisasibi and selected through a public tendering process. Chisasibi offers 3 architectural designs that homeowners can choose from.

The community workshops organized by the Fund’s CE Specialist – Scott Flamand – on homeownership and personal finance have seen overwhelming success, with the average attendance at each session being between 25-30 community members. In addition to the workshops, outreach services that include one-on-one financial counselling were fully booked with the average counselling session lasting 30 minutes. This is a confidential one-on-one service the Fund offers to all First Nations participating under the Fund’s program, free of charge.

Chisasibi prides itself that there have been no defaults in the housing loan program since being established in 2007. With more units in construction as of 2021, their experience proves that the system is working and should continue.

Sydney Chewanish, retired Housing Director, commented that COVID-19 slowed down construction activity in the last 3 years. However, he credits the overall success of the Chisasibi Housing Department to “experience and a commitment to helping and listening to the people, to find out what they want and build from there”. He feels the system that Chisasibi has implemented is working and this system can continue even with the new private homeownership program being implemented by the Cree Nation Government, which provides a subsidy to the individual homeowner. Having a lender closer to home and in the community would make it easier.

In 2019, the Chisasibi Fire Department Brigade embarked on a journey to protect their legacy, their community and their homes. With the support of the Fund, the CNC partnered with the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), Fire and Safety Division, to certify five Fire Evaluators and to train fifteen of the Brigade’s members to achieve NFPA 1001 Fire Fighter Level 1 and Level 2 certification in accordance with the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications and the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress.

“I want to make it very clear how fundamentally important it is to ensure the basic safety and security of our communities, and how important the work is that you graduates are committing yourselves to. Without that security and without a sense of safety in our communities, nothing else is possible. No dreams can be imagined where there is no feeling of safety… no grand and noble visions can be brought to consciousness, and no inspired ambitions can take root where people do not feel secure. For committing yourselves to ensuring our collective sense of safety, you are making a contribution to our people, the scope of which you may never imagine.” – Dr. Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Cree of Northern Quebec

CNC hosted the JIBC, Fire and Safety Division, to deliver the two-day Fire 1052 Evaluator Program. Five fire service professionals from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi and five professionals from the neighbouring fire departments from the communities of Whapmaguustui and the Cree Nation of Mistissini participated. Once granted JIBC evaluator certification, individuals are authorized to evaluate on behalf of JIBC Fire and Safety Divisions. Qualifying evaluations include proctoring accredited tests and exams, conducting skills-based assessments and/or the marking of assignments for face-to-face, blended or online courses. To obtain the Evaluator Certificate, participants are required to receive a passing grade of 75 percent. By the end of the two-day program, all ten participants were authorized JIBC Evaluators.

Four of the successful participants of the JIBC Evaluator Program were able to support JIBC in evaluating a training session to certify fifteen members of the Chisasibi Fire Department Brigade. Over Spring/Summer 2019, the uncertified members of the CNC Fire Brigade were evaluated on topics including Exterior and Interior Fire Fighter Operations, Full-Service Fire Fighting Operation, HAZMAT Awareness and Operations, and two Live Fire exercises. A graduation ceremony was hosted by the Cree Nation Government in the National Capital Region in November 2019.

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