The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay mourns the passing of leader Abel Kitchen, who passed away on February 2, 2018. Abel Kitchen’s contribution to the health and wellbeing of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee spanned more than 40 years.
Abel Kitchen was a Cree statesman and Elder who was signatory to the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and served as Chief of his home community, the Cree Nation of Waswanipi.
Abel Kitchen was for a brief term Executive Director of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, an institution that was formed as a direct result of the JBNQA to give the Cree control over their health and social services. He engaged with the Government of Quebec to ensure recognition of traditional approaches in the health and social services provided to the people of Eeyou Istchee.
Abel Kitchen’s wife Jane has been his constant partner in this important work. Together, they served on the Council of Chishaayiyuu, Elders who advise the Cree Health Board in cultural matters. Abel Kitchen’s work at the Cree Health Board and as an Advisor to the Council of Chishaayiyuu was instrumental in the creation of the Nishiiyuu Group in 2013. Nishiiyuu is a major department within the Cree Health Board which is focused on promoting the integration of traditional practices into all aspects of the Health Board’s work. Thus Abel Kitchen is called the “Grandfather of Nishiiyuu.”
Abel Kitchen held a B.A. in Social Work in addition to his deep knowledge of traditional healing approaches. “He was able to converse in both traditional and mainstream perspectives,” recalls Laura Bearskin, Assistant Executive Director of Nishiiyuu. He was a “traditional healer, spiritual advisor, and mentor to many.” Abel Kitchen was a valued Elder Advisor to the Nishiiyuu Group which he helped to create, as well as other culturally based initiatives within the Cree Health Board such as the Piipiichaau Uchishtuun (Robin’s Nest) women’s shelter program, and Maanuuhiikuu mental health services.
As the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay approaches its 40th anniversary in April 2018, it is vital that the contribution of Elders including Abel Kitchen be documented and celebrated.