Darlene Cheechoo is a new face in the mining sector. The president of a recently formed partnership between the Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company (CREECO) and Dumas, she has built her career working for Cree people, and sees the new venture as another extension of a successful business model.
CREECO Dumas Mining aims to provide underground mine development services to resource companies throughout Canada. CREECO’s existing subsidiaries include air transport, construction, catering and hotel operations. Together with Dumas’ mining expertise, Cheechoo says, “We have a one-stop shop for potential partners and clients.” While the company will initially focus on opportunities in the Cree territory, Cheechoo emphasizes that CREECO does not want to restrict its activities to First Nations markets. “We are competitive in any market,” she says.
This new role is just one of the positions keeping Cheechoo busy. An elected representative from the community of Waskaganish in northwestern Quebec, she serves as vice-chair on the board of compensation, vice-president of CREECO, and vice-chair of the Cree School Board. Her projects have included heading construction supply distribution shaping corporate vision, and raising expectations for student achievement. Her work is informed by more than a decade of higher education: after completing her BA, she went on to earn degrees in education and law. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 2005 but chose to stay in the North to be part of the development of the Cree territory known as Eeyou Istchee.
Both her drive to learn and her choice of path can be credited to her late traditional adoptive mother. “She was my greatest cheerleader and encouraged me to set goals in life,” Cheechoo explains. “Once I finished my training, she wanted me to return to the community to work for the people.”
Cheechoo’s mother provided a strong role model for her, and she has also found inspiration from Aboriginal leaders like Wilma Mankiller, Justice Murray Sinclair, Elijah Harper and Roberta Jamieson. Cheechoo in turn feels she can serve as a model for women. “I was already married when I applied to university as a mature student and that can be a common experience for all women. Achieving personal goals often requires tremendous sacrifice and commitment, but if you set your mind to it, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.”
In her role as president of CREECO Dumas Mining, Cheechoo’s first obligation is to grow the business, an objective that will depend on the planned employment, training and business opportunities for First Nations communities. “One of my aims is to increase awareness amongst First Nations groups and women with an interest in participating in the sector,” she explains. “I want to help build capacity in other First Nations communities and help them develop resource opportunities in their territories.”