07/15/2013 06:50 EDT | Updated 09/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Telephone, internet problems affect Cree vote for Grand Chief

Quebec Crees are voting today to elect their Grand Chief and Deputy Grand chief.

However, a major telecommunications outage is affecting several James Bay communities.

Telebec has confirmed that a fibre optic cable is broken between Matagami and km 72 of the James Bay Highway.

Telebec spokesperson, Doris Blackburn, says a construction crew probably damaged the fibre optic line this afternoon without realizing it.

That means no cell phone coverage or internet for clients of Telebec and Telus.

More than 12,000 people are eligible to cast a ballot in nine Cree communities as well as centres outside Eeyou Istchee such as Montreal, Ottawa and Val d'Or.

This year's election was set to feature voting by telephone. The outage raises the question of what will happen to those who planned to dial in their vote.

Grand Chief has served 18 years

There are three candidates running for Grand Chief: Incumbent Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, the president of the Cree Mineral Exploration Board, businessman Jack Blacksmith, and the current Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff.

Coon Come has been Grand Chief for a total of 18 years and recently negotiated a governance agreement that gives the Cree more power over Category 2 and 3 lands in the James Bay region. Bill 42 also creates the regional government of Cree and non-native called the Eeyou-Istchee James Bay government that will take effect on January 1st, 2014.

Ashley Iserhoff, the current deputy grand chief, is stressing the need for a new, more youthful voice to take over the running of the Cree Nation. At 38, he is promising to help make sure young people benefit from development happening in territory.

Jack Blacksmith says he is hoping his experience in business and many years as head of CREECo, the economic development arm of the Cree Regional Authority, will connect with voters.

Eight people are running for Deputy Grand Chief: Robert Kitchen, Kenny Loon, Rodney Mark, Christopher Napash, Roger Sandy, Linda Shecapio, Emma Virginia Wabano and Bertie Wapachee

Youth vote important, as Cree youth gain in numbers

During the 2009 Grand Council elections, the participation rate was 52.9 per cent. This was an increase from the previous election but a total that many Cree said was too low.

With 70 per cent of Crees under the age of 34, the youth vote could be very important in this election. Traditionally, youth have had a very poor turnout in Grand Council elections.

Stacey Bear, former Youth Grand Chief, thinks it will be different this time around thanks in part to Facebook and other social media.

"What we will decide today is very important for the people in the future, such as our children. Even if I don't want to vote, I still have to for my child. I have to make to decision on "who will think of my child," she said.

A candidate needs to 50 per cent plus 1 to win the election. If no candidate wins that percentage in the first vote, a run-off election will be held.