Being in the north in the community of Waskaganish brings back many memories. The Cree Community is at the southern end of James Bay where the mouth of the Rupert River flows. I recall a time back in the mid 90’s when we were asked to produce a series of Stay in School Posters for the Cree School Board. The posters were published and remain on view to this day within schools and Cree offices. My long time photographer colleague, Fred Cattroll joined me in James Bay Quebec within the Cree Communities. The School Boards intent producing the design remains to this day one method to encourage youth about the importance of education. We were granted introductions to many elders and Cree Leaders.
They became participants and took part in the project. We needed a location in Waskaganish to photograph children and elders together. An arrangement was granted to locate a set in Billy Diamond’s mother's home in her living room. Fred was able to set up backdrops and find props for those who volunteered. Billy’s mother was photographed with others in the immediate and extended family.
This poster series attracted the attention of many people including a client who after seeing the creative direction and photography sought us to do more work on behalf of Canada’s Aboriginal People for the Federal Government. Later in the nineties Industry Canada engaged us to travel across Canada to photograph business leaders operating successful enterprises. This mandate brought us back to Waskaganish to photograph two Cree legends Albert and Billy Diamond.
Albert and Billy owners of carrier Air Creebec were together at that time in Waskaganish, they granted us permission to have their picture taken in front of their aircraft on the Tarmac. Both Diamond men arrived as I recall on a very cold afternoon with windswept snow streaming over the black runway. A turboprop aircraft was moved into position as part of our set and once that was placed, Fred went to work to enshrine the leaders in visual and written testimony nationally.
Today I’m here in Waskaganish on another mandate for the Grand Council of The Crees. We came here to interview Billy for a series of documentary films that chronicle the remarkable achievements he and others fulfilled on behalf of the Cree nation. An exemplar for people everywhere Billy was engaged and willing to share his memories and thoughts.
We came to know Billy over the course of the last two years. He was an avid supporter of sharing, preserving history and capturing memories from his remarkable forty year leadership
A great man and hero, he passed away on Thursday.
My heartfelt sympathies and condolences go out to the Diamond family.