Chief Billy Diamond

A journalist once called Chief Billy Diamond the Lee Iacocca of the North. Indeed, it is hard to visit Northern Québec without being touched by the work of this Cree business and political leader. You can fly in on Air Creebec, the airline he founded; stay in a home built by the Cree Construction Company Limited, which he started; or drop by Cree Yamaha Motors to test-drive a boat. He was born in 1949, in the bush just outside the Waskaganish First Nation in Québec that he now heads. The world of the Québec Cree was bleak in the 1940s and 1950s. There was poverty, squalor and tar paper shacks. Chief Diamond was elected Chief in the 1970s, just in time to confront the Government of Québec over the James Bay Hydroelectric Project. He organized national and international media attention to spotlight the plight of the Cree and Inuit of the North; went to the United Nations to argue the Aboriginal case; helped found the Grand Council of the Crees of Québec to assist in the battle, becoming its first Grand Chief; and, was the prime Cree mover and signatory of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement. As a result, the Cree were awarded $136 million in cash and investment infrastructure that has totaled more than $1.4 billion. He has long been a leader in the development of Aboriginal businesses, thus providing his people with an essential tool in reaching their goal of self-determination. In the 1980s, Chief Diamond negotiated with Ottawa on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations during the Constitutional talks. Along with a few others, he is largely credited for Section 35, which recognizes Aboriginal rights, finally being placed in the Constitution. A deeply spiritual man, and the subject of the best-selling biography, Chief Diamond has been presented with the Order of Québec. Chief Billy Diamond received a 1997 National Aboriginal Achievement Award in business and commerce for the outstanding results he has achieved.