The Grand Council of the Crees

Presentation to the Standing Committee of Parliament

Presentation to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Aboriginal Affairs by the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) April 30, 1998 Economic Development Under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

Posted: 1998-05-30

The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) represents the nine Cree communities and the Cree families occupying the 372 family hunting territories in sub-Arctic Quebec. We occupy the land drained by the rivers flowing from the south and east towards James Bay and southern Hudson Bay. We call this land "Eeyou Istchee". We have occupied this land from time immemorial and have managed the resources so as to allow the continuation of Cree society for many, many generations. When Europeans contacted our society it was primarily for the purposes of trade. For the first 300 years of our relationship Crees continued to occupy the land as we had always done. We developed with the Europeans, a symbiotic if not always mutually beneficial relationship, which continued until the middle part of this century. At that time a Cree hunter could make today's equivalent of upwards of $30,000 from selling the furs that he harvested from his hunting territory. Also, in the 1950's certain government services began to be available to the Crees including some limited health services, some educational opportunities and the old age pension, which led to increasing settlement of the Crees around the former trading posts. Until that time our society had been organized around the extended family unit and the ochimaw or family head. This also in the 1950's was supplemented and to some degree supplanted by a system of government based upon the chief and band council. In the late 1960's and early 1970's Eeyou Istchee became increasing targeted by forestry companies, mining companies and Hydro Quebec. At first the forestry and mining activities provided some supplementary income to some Crees who combined subsistence hunting with part-time employment in logging activities and sometimes in activities related to mining and mining exploration. These activities also led to increased social tensions on the territory as the people who were the original inhabitants were increasingly treated as squatters in their own lands. The communities of Nemaska, Waswanipi and Ouje-Bougoumou are prime examples of this. All of these communities were closed as a result of development activities. Those Crees seeking to participate in the wage economy built shack towns on the outskirts of the company communities that grew up around these so-called development activities. The community of Ouje-Bougoumou for example, while it tried to stay together, was moved many times to accommodate the wishes of the developers and was gradually broken up into five satellite communities.In 1972 we realized that the plans of Hydro-Quebec to dam more than a dozen rivers in our territory would spell an end to our way of life. The leaders at that time organized to form the Grand Council of the Crees as a means to fight and protect the Cree rights to the territory. Collectively we filed a court injunction to stop the La Grande project, then under construction. After six months of testimony the Quebec Superior Court ordered the project stopped, as it would damage Cree rights to the territory. Only one week later the Quebec Court of Appeals overturned this decision, deciding that the continued construction of this project was in the best interest of all Quebecers and that the interests of the majority were more important than the interests of Cree society. We appealed to the Supreme Court but it refused to hear our application saying that we could begin the process of pleading the case on the basis of our rights in the lower courts. We saw that this would allow the La Grande project to be completed. Rather than subject our people to the continued social impacts of unchecked development we decided to both file our court case and entertain talks with Canada, Quebec and Hydro-Quebec to determine whether any accommodation was possible. It should be understood that at that time aboriginal rights were not recognized in Canada and that the Canadian custom was to bulldoze the aboriginals out of the way to allow the developers to do what they wanted with the territory. Look at the north shore in Quebec, Manitoba or British Columbia in the 1960's and 1970's for the usual program.After one year of discussions, in 1974, we believed that we had sufficient cause to continue the negotiations and so we signed an agreement in principle. At the end of the second year on November 11, 1975 the parties signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. This agreement was the first and perhaps the only, aside from the Northern Flood Agreement, comprehensive land claim agreement signed in Canada. It includes chapters on land, membership, local government, regional government, compensation, education, health, police and justice, environmental protection, hunting, fishing and trapping, income security for hunters, community and economic development. The Inuit of northern Quebec signed the same Agreement and in 1978 the Naskapis of Quebec signed a modified version of the Agreement. This latter agreement is known as the Northeastern Agreement Quebec Agreement.The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was intended to provide the Crees the means to develop their communities and also to become implicated in the economic development of the territory as a whole. At the same time it was intended to protect and provide the option to the Cree people of continuing to pursue to the traditional way of life as they always had.At that time, in 1975, hunting, fishing and trapping was the primary activity of the majority of the people. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million pounds of fresh meat was annually brought into Cree society through this activity in addition to approximately $ 2 million of annual fur revenues. The hunting, fishing and trapping regime in Section 24 of the Agreement spells out the manner in which this activity would be protected in the context of growing sport hunting and tourism activities in Cree territory. There is ongoing involvement of the Inuit, Naskapis, Crees, Canada and Quebec in this regime.Section 22 of the Agreement guarantees that the Cree communities and their economies as well as the rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement would be protected in the context of possible future development. This chapter gave the Crees the possibility of opposing types of development, which they saw as detrimental to either their traditional occupations or their increased involvement in present day territorial development. This section of the Agreement puts a great emphasis on the social and economic impacts but also emphasizes the environmental impacts of development.Section 28 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement provides for the development of the infrastructures of the Cree communities including sanitary infrastructure and community infrastructures and buildings of various types. This chapter also provides for a regime, which would open the door to increased Cree involvement in development activities in the territory. Priority was to be given to awarding contracts to the Crees and to Cree employment in development. A special regime for training and for measures to help Cree entrepreneurs is set out in this section.Since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in the 1975, we have built up our communities. The special measures under the James Bay and Northern Quebec have not however been implemented in any manner which represents the commitments of Canada and Quebec set out in the Agreement. In 1982 a special report of the federal government clearly stated that it had failed to set up the implementation mechanisms and to provide the budgets necessary for implementing the Agreement. Curiously, this review failed to deal with the question of Cree economic development in Section 28. Since the publication of the review the federal government has once again failed to come to terms with the implementation of the Agreement. Let me give an overview of this matter.Section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement relating to the social and environmental impact of development called for special measures to bring Crees into this activity. Neither Canada nor Quebec has passed the regulations, policies and laws or set aside the funding required to implement this section. As a result, development on this territory goes ahead without any measures such as for example, those required by the Nunuvut Inuit Impact Benefit Agreements. There is room in the Agreement for such Agreements, which would have resulted in increased Cree involvement in development. Something under 100 Crees are presently involved in the forestry sector on the territory. The land use plans, which were to have taken into account the Cree presence on the territory and the forest management plans, to have been elaborated on the basis of Cree input, have never been developed. As a result forestry development continues on the territory in a manner which destroys the Cree ability to practice their traditional activities. Forestry activity presently produces 1.2 billion dollars of revenues annually for Quebec and supports the employment of over 15,000 people, but few Crees benefit from this activity. Hydro-electric development has not turned out as we thought it would. In 1975 we thought that the reservoirs of Hydro-Quebec could be used for traditional Cree activities. In fact the fish in the reservoirs are contaminated with mercury. Also, the shorelines of the reservoirs are not suitable habitat for wildlife. We had been originally led to believe that we could establish camps on the reservoirs for winter hunting. Moreover, hydro development has not provided long-term opportunity for Cree employment. The La Grande Project currently employs approximately 750 permanent employees. For the most part these employees are flown in from southern Quebec and work on the operation and maintenance of the project on a shift which lasts usually a couple of weeks at a time. The number of Cree employees hired by Hydro-Quebec has never been more than five people, or .007% of those employed at any one time. While the Crees managed to get some employment during the construction phase of these projects, during the operations phase there has been very little access to employment. The primary barriers to this employment are access to union accredited employment qualification cards, language restrictions that limit bilingual Cree-English speaking employees from working on the project and educational and training barriers. Can you imagine a company from Ontario building a large hydro project in front of Quebec City and not hiring any of the local people? Can you imagine such an employer not even putting in place programs to bring locals into full-time employment? This is our situation. In the mining industry the Crees up until recently gained some employment through contracts to cut survey lines through the bush for the purposes of staking claims. Such employment has recently diminished by a new computer system for registering claims that has been instituted in Quebec. Since 1996 Cree employees have gained employment on the Troilus project to the west of the community of Mistissini. In spite of opposition from the Quebec government and Quebec Mining Association to the Agreement that was being negotiated between the proponent Metale Corporation and the Crees, there was a reduced version of the agreement signed. This agreement contained an employment target of 25% Cree employees. The company and Mistissini Band put in place special training programs and employment recruitment programs as well as special measures to allow Crees to negotiate contracts for the provision of certain services. The results have been remarkable. Not only does a Cree company provide restaurant services for all of the company employees, but also Cree employees are now working in all sectors of the mine activity. Six percent (6%) of the company's salaried employees are Crees. These are in the human resources and accounting departments. Thirty-four percent (34%) of the employees paid on an hourly basis are Crees and 33% of those who are employed on a temporary basis are Crees. The result is that out of 289 employees 74 are Crees or 26%. The Crees continue to make efforts to increase their number employed on a salary basis in the company. The Troilus experience has been satisfactory to both the promoter of the project and the local Cree community. It is an example of the demonstrated willingness of aboriginal people to become involved in development activities when the barriers to such involvement are dealt with through special measures. For the rest of the mining industry in northern Quebec the regional development agency, the James Bay Development Corporation which is a non-native entity operated out of Mattagami and Chibougamau., has over the past years actively discouraged and worked against Cree involvement in the industry. Measures, which are considered elsewhere in the world as positive measures to bring under- represented populations into employment opportunities, are seen by the James Bay Development Corporation to be discriminatory and unfairly favouring the Crees. In the area of tourism the Crees have launched a number of ventures including fishing camps at Mistissini and Chisasibi, caribou hunting and outfitting camps at Chisasibi and Eco-tourism ventures at Whapmagoostui, Ouje-Bougoumou and at Waskaganish. Such ventures are just beginning, however not only do these companies have the normal problems of setting up operations and establishing markets, they also operate in the environment of the Regionale Radissonnie Development Council which has been hostile to the setting up of the Cree Tourism Association. This association was a promise made by Quebec and Canada in section 28 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975 and was not set up until last year. In fact we are not yet finished setting up the Association. Both the Government of Canada under the Federal Office of Regional Development Quebec and the Quebec government have undertaken efforts to thwart the Cree organization of their involvement in the tourism industry on the territory. Quebec has attempted to control the operations of the Cree Tourism Association by insisting that it be under the non-native Radissonnie Tourism Association. In the years since the signature of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975 the Crees have made important advances in setting up local and regional government and in setting up the institutions that go along with this. The Cree Health Board and the Cree School Board are examples of relatively successful efforts to implement chapters of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The result has been that approximately 30% of the Cree work force are presently employed in some aspect of public government and the delivery social services. The Cree School Board employs over 300 Cree teachers and support staff. This is a vast improvement from the days when the federal government operated the system and almost nobody outside of the janitors in the schools was of Cree ancestry. The Cree Health Board has a similar history. Increasingly Crees are being attracted into professions, which in the past were the realm of non-native employees. The Income Security Program, which provides an income supplement to those Cree people who pursue traditional activities as their main occupation, had in 1996-97, 1,742 adults enrolled as beneficiaries. This is approximately 38% of the Cree working population. Another approximately 1,500 Crees are employed in full-time jobs. Which leaves approximately 30% or 1,300 to 1,400 Crees who do not have employment. Such figures do not take into account a number of people who are currently enrolled on the Income Security Program for hunters who are actively looking for full-time salaried or wage employment. Moreover, it is estimated that as of 1999 in order to have full employment in the Cree communities approximately 2,000 new jobs need to be created. The requirement for new jobs is increased annually by approximately 400 as a result of new entrants into the labour force. In contrast to the population of Canada the Cree population is relatively young. With a birthrate of almost 3%, a rate which has remained unchanged since 1975 when the figures began to be collected, today approximately 35% of the population in the Cree communities is under 15 years of age. In Canada as approximately 21% are under the age of 15 years. There is therefore a need for the creation of employment opportunities in the Cree communities in Eeyou Istchee and for Crees in the territory covered by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Eeyou Ischee, the traditional Cree hunting lands. One of the lessons to-date to be taken from the Cree experience is that the improvement of social services and the increased employment of Crees in the public sector in general cannot meet the requirement for employment opportunities in the communities. While there is still need for the growth in the public sector, particularly in the area of health related social services (social and psychological counseling and healing circles) and in some areas of regional government, the fact remains that the increase in Crees requiring employment on an annual basis is creating an employment deficit in the communities of crisis proportions. One interesting initiative by the Crees has been the efforts of the Ouje-Bougoumou community to address their problems of community development. The community, which in the 1950's and 1960's was driven on numerous occasions from their village by mining development, eventually managed, working with the Grand Council of the Crees, to press the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for negotiations with respect to the creation of a new village. As a result, in 1990 construction of the village began. The community obtained funding from the federal and provincial governments for the construction of the village, setting up of a special housing fund, and for the creation of a special economic development fund. The community began by installing inground infrastructure, which would reduce the total energy cost to the community residents. All houses and public buildings are heated by a system of inground hot water pipes. This system is supplied with energy from waste sawdust from a local sawmill near the community of Chapais. Energy costs in the Cree communities are very high because of their remote locations. The costs of transportation oil to the Cree communities or the costs of heating the houses and public buildings by electricity are also very high. Knowing this, the leaders of Ouje-Bougoumou undertook this special project to limit these costs. Not only has the district heating system reduced the costs to institutions and householders for heat, it has also created some local employment. In addition to this the community has also undertaken plans for an Eco-tourism project as well as other local economic development initiatives. While Ouje-Bougoumou has not yet resolved its employment requirements, it has set a good example in defining certain directions for future development.The community of Ouje-Bougoumou was fortunate in that it developed its district heating plans from the beginning of the village construction. The rest of the communities have not been so fortunate. The communities have grown up through a mix of investments and through housing and infrastructure subsidies, which are only predictable on a year to year basis. As a result of the manner in which the federal government plans for the development of the Cree communities, long-term funding requirements have not been to-date factored into the long-term planning of the Federal Government and its programs. Initiatives such as efforts to minimize energy costs which have a 10 and 20 year pay back period are difficult to fit into federal and provincial financial planning cycles which have three year horizons. The problem is that the long-term financial implications of such shortsighted planning are enormous. The Crees are presently involved in discussions with the federal government and hope to find a more sustainable basis on which to develop the Cree communities. Long-term financial planning and consideration of community needs is essential to this initiative.Efforts to take advantage of local situations such as that presented to the people of Ouje-Bougoumou with the location of a nearby sawmill provide some opportunity for improving the efficiency of the operation of Cree communities. These are matters, which must be considered on a case by case basis, as essential to proper planning.In addition to the development of the communities and community infrastructures, the Crees have undertaken development of a commercial nature. Collectively the Crees own a company called the Cree Regional Economic Development Corporation (or "Creeco") which is a holding company for a number of Cree ventures. These include: Air Creebec, the Cree Construction and Development Company, Servinor (Food Wholesaler) and Valipiro (a company which provides stevedoring services at the airport in Val d'Or. In 1997 the total revenues of these companies was approximately $87 million dollars. Profit margins in that year were relatively limited as a result of losses suffered through Servinor which is new company. The Crees have started to distributed food on a wholesale basis to companies in the Val d'Or area, the Cree communities and in the Eastern High-Arctic.These companies employ approximately 25% Crees in their normal operations. During a period of intensified construction activities the percentage increases because of the number of Crees who are hired on a seasonal basis to work for Cree Construction. All of these companies presently have as their basis of operations the community of Val d'Or. The Crees make an important economic contribution to this non-native community through their activities in these companies. The Crees also operate Cree Energy which provides wholesale fuels to some of the Cree communities and to some retailers in the Val d'Or and Amos area. When looked at in a broad prospective the Crees must seek sources of revenue which will allow them to support the development of a private sector in the Cree communities and a Cree private sector outside of the Cree communities on the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement Territory. The sharing of the revenues generated by resource development in the Agreement Territory, are an obvious source for such funding. At the present time resource development on the Cree territory is basically resource development in the north for the south. Benefits for the Crees tend to be either to be in the form of compensation payments, which are in effect payment for damages and serve to remove the Crees from development activity rather than to implicate them more within development. Revenue sharing, if instituted, must provide for a long-term funding base as a backbone for the development of both Cree communities and for economic activity on the territory. In addition to this, the employment of Crees in development activity and in the administration of the territory is essential. The communities themselves cannot create employment opportunities on the level of 400 new jobs per year. The thousands of jobs in present development activities on the Cree territory, 99% of which presently go to non-natives, must become more accessible to Crees. It is discriminatory for a population, which over a large part of the territory is in fact the majority, not to be represented in the workforce in the region at least in percentages, which reflect the population make-up. This is particularly of concern when one looks at the fact the Crees have a constitutionally protected agreement that is especially designed to bring about Cree involvement in employment on the territory. Frankly, the governments of Canada and Quebec have not undertaken their obligations and commitments in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement with the seriousness in which they deserve to be undertaken. Key to this is the impact and assessment process set up in section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. While the James Bay Agreement says that Canada will legislate section 22, if it has problems implementing it, today the Cree review procedure is defunct and not used at all and Canada uses thin and wrongly construed legal arguments not to implement. Canada is clearly in violation of its constitutionally obligations in this section. Moreover, if you look at section 28.10.4 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, again there are no regulations to set out the Cree employment and contract priorities for development on the Territory. These should be set out and they should apply to third parties. This is not done. Once again Canada is violation of its legislative responsibilities. Therefore, we ask the Committee to continue to monitor the implementation by Canada of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement with a view to facilitating the special measures to be undertaken by the Government for the implementation of the Agreement in the long-term. We expect that such measures will be developed through the negotiation process presently entered into by the Crees and Canada and headed by Mr. Michel Vennat and by Dr. Ted Moses.

Thank you very much! Merci bien