03/06/2014 16:55 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT

David Suzuki visits tiny Cree community to explore big ideas

Environmental activist David Suzuki is visiting the tiny Cree community of Nemaska, population 600, to explore some big ideas.

Nemaska is the smallest Cree village in the James Bay region of northern Quebec. It's about 5 hours north-west of Chibougamau.

Suzuki's appearance is part of an event, Cree Round Table on Capacity Building, that is touring remote communities. It's an initiative to teach young people about the Cree Nation's history, and inspire them to get involved -- in the public realm, the resource sector, and more.

"What you're teaching here, I believe, the history of your people is the story of your relationship with the land and the way that you want to live on that land," said Suzuki in his speech to the community.

Suzuki is one of many guest speakers who will be flown in to Eeyou Istchee over the coming months as the capacity building tour visits each Cree community. His speech followed presentations about job opportunities in the booming mining sector in northern Quebec.

With a new regional government, control over services such as education, health, and policing, and three mines, come thousands of jobs.

Some of those jobs require French proficiency, a degree, or specialized training. But with only 15% of Crees going on to post-secondary education, many aren't qualified to take those jobs. 

So the Cree government is pulling out all the stops, spending tens of thousands of dollars on the capacity building tour. 

"We have a large youth population and that's a big labour force," says Abel Bosum, a Cree negotiator and one of the driving forces behind the capacity building tour. "If we don't get them in, particularly in resource development, companies will import people from the South and that could leave the Crees on the sideline."

"Also I think we need to change the mentality. Historically Crees have been opposed to hydroelectric development so young people have a hard time seeing themselves working for Hydro."

Some of the round table presentations offer a crash course on the 75 agreements the Quebec Crees have signed, starting with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, known as the first modern treaty, in 1975.

Ashley Iserhoff worked for eight years as the Deputy Grand Chief of the Quebec Crees. Now he's speaking to students on this tour, encouraging them to follow in his footsteps.

"You as students are going to take over the leadership. You're going to be responsible to ensure that these agreements are implemented, to improve on what we've done in the past."

Iserhoff said the progress the Crees have made over the past 40 years is impressive, but many young people take it for granted. 

"In the 70s, when the government announced a major hydroelectric project, you know we weren't even considered at all. They didn't even ask us."

David Suzuki also addressed instances of First Nations in Canada fighting development on their territory.

"They're coming into your territory, I see you have diamonds, and all kinds of stuff. The world wants that, the economy wants that, and that all exploits the planet and the world population to sell stuff."

"I believe it's no accident today that the major battles going on across Canada are being led by or involve First Nations," he said.

"What are they telling us? They are telling us there are things more important than money. I don't believe the corporations or government are hearing that message."

Bosum says he feels there is no conflict between Suzuki's message of resisting development, and the current push to get Cree youth into jobs in the energy, resource and mining sectors. 

"The Cree have always been very strong on environmental issues. David Suzuki is a Canadian icon and we're hoping young people will be inspired," Bosum says.

"We're just trying to give them all the options that they can consider."