The Grand Council of the Crees

Submission to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs on Housing..

Submission of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs on Housing and Community Infrastructure

Posted: 2001-03-27

Waychia! I thank the chairperson, Mrs. Nancy Karetak-Lindell and the members of the Committee for inviting us today to speak about this most important issue. I especially thank Mr. Guy St. Julien, our member for Abitibi, James Bay and Nunavik for speaking to the Committee on this matter and for helping to make this hearing possible.

The Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority is the freely elected representative of the Eeyouch of James Bay Quebec, the traditional homeland we call Eeyou Istchee or "ThePeoples' Land".

In 1975 we signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement as an out of court settlement in our dispute over our rights and the La Grande Hydroelectric Complexe 1975. Our rights in the Agreement are protected by the Constitution of Canada as treaty rights (1982). It was not negotiated under the 1986 federal land claims policy and is not well served by a Department that tries to reduce it to that present policy.

The Agreement was an exchange. In return for the Cree approval of the La Grande Project and for the acceptance of a process by which future development in the Territory would be regulated, the Crees were promised employment participation in resource development, protection of our way of life even in the context of development and guarantees that our communities would develop according to our needs. Community development was to be based on needs and funded through arrangements with the Governments of Canada and Quebec which both governments were committed by law to make.

Programs and special initiatives for the development of the Cree communities were to have been crafted with our involvement to meet the needs of the communities as they evolved. In this regard, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has failed to implement section 28.8 of the Agreement, the Community and Economic Development Committee, which was the policy engine to guide the [quote] "establishment, expansion, operation and effectiveness of government economic development, community development and other programs related to the economic and social development of the Cree people." [end of quote]

There were two approaches taken in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. First of all it was guaranteed in the Agreement, as also "mentioned" in the 1974 letter from then Minister of Indian Affairs, Judd Buchanan, that the Crees would not be prejudiced on the basis of Agreement rights from continuing to enjoy programs available to all aboriginal peoples in Canada. Secondly, it was agreed that Government of Canada programs and services applied to the Cree communities would be based on the needs of the communities. Just as in the cases of education and health, not now tied to federal limits, also "mentioned" in the 1974 Minister's letter, the intention of the Agreement was not to restrict the programs to the levels set out in national programs but to guarantee that eligibility to such programs would not be lost because of the more extensive Agreement obligations of Government in these areas, or as the Minister put it: "..without discrimination...because of rights, benefits or privileges arising from the Final Agreement".

In spite of the untimely death by Indian Affairs of the Community and Economic Development Committee in 1978, the following year we signed an: "Agreement Respecting the Housing and Housing Infrastructure Plan for the Cree Communities of Quebec". This 5-year plan was not an implementation of Section 28 of the Treaty. It was rather based on an assessment done by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and approved by Treasury Board, of the 5-year community needs for housing and infrastructure. There were subsequent problems in its implementation as the Department had not in fact secured the funding to fulfill its obligations in the first years of the housing agreement.

By 1980 a gastro-enteritis epidemic hit the communities and several elders and children died because of the lack of the clean water and proper sanitation facilities that had been called for in the Treaty. The federal review of the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement recommended the completion of the sanitary infrastructure in the communities and called for a Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE) initiative or "special efforts" by DIAND and other relevant Departments (James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement Implementation Review February 1982). No such initiatives have ever yet been undertaken.

The point of this history is to say that the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has taken the position that the Cree communities are restricted to what was available to other communities and that housing is not in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The truth is that the Agreement calls on the Government to address the development needs of the Cree communities in a manner that is based on cooperation with the Cree Regional Authority. The Government itself has initiated and recommended special programs to address these needs in the past. However, when the housing agreement under which we built 500 houses and sewer and water systems expired in 1984, Canada refused to negotiate its renewal.

We have about 2,450 housing units throughout the 9 Cree Communities to house our population of 13,000. You can see immediately that this works out to 5.2 people per house on average. Indian Affairs uses an overall average benchmark of 4 people per unit to measure community overcrowding. We decided to carry out a door to door analysis in each community to obtain a more precise picture. The results were shocking. 60% of our housing units are overcrowded based on the Canadian Standard of 1 person 1 room. Our two largest communities are the worst. Mistissini at 79% overcrowded and Chisasibi at 62% . The rest of the communities are not much better. Other Indian communities in Quebec average 4 persons per unit. The Inuit of Nunavik average 4.1 persons per unit and Quebecers average 2.5. Now I would not want anyone to interpret my remarks to mean that other Native communities? housing needs should be ignored. Their statistics are bad, ours are worse and all needs should be addressed in a timely manner.

The Cree communities need a total of 1,400 units now to resolve the overcrowding. Another 250 units are required to replace very old or substandard housing. In addition we will require 600 more units over the next 5 years to accommodate estimated new family formations. We need to build 2,250 units over the next 5 years. At our current level of assistance from D.I.A.N.D and CMHC we might be able to meet 20% of that need. If we are to meet this need it means our communities will also have to almost double in size. We need major expansions to our existing infrastructure of internal roads, water and sewer systems.

Finally our existing housing units need to be renovated. Age, overcrowding and our harsh environment has taken its toll along with insufficient funding for renovation over the years.

If we are to resolve this situation we must come up with appropriate housing programs that increase private home ownership, maximize the value added employment benefits to the communities and take care of the needs of those with lower incomes. Part of the solution must be to increase Cree employment.

In Region 10 (the Quebec administrative unit that covers Northern Quebec from the southern limit of the Cree hunting territories) the Crees are approximately 30% of the potential workforce. Their representation in the regional population is expected to increase as the young become of working age and as the resident non-aboriginal population gradually declines.

However, of the 3,350 jobs in the forestry industry in the Territory, the Crees represent around 5% or 180 full time jobs or part time equivalents. In mining the territorial workforce is 1400 of which only 5% (79) are Crees (all employed at one mine). In hydroelectricity the Crees represent approximately only 1% or 7 full time workers. The barriers to Cree employment are significant and include language barriers, union and trade certification, lack of training opportunities and racial discrimination.

We have recently been working with Human Resources Development Canada to elaborate a plan to improve Cree access to territorial development. The plan is based on job-targeted training and industry specific coordinators to create opportunities for Cree employment. The long-term goal is for equitable Cree participation in all sectors, consistent with the commitments of the 1975 Treaty.

Our plan is to work to put into place the means for Crees to be a significant part of the regional labour force. However, this will take time. In the short term we must build more houses in the communities. The Cree houses are overcrowded at levels that exceed many other aboriginal communities. A program to relieve the growing human problems would create hope for employment and a reasonable way of life.

I also point out to you that the Cree Naskapi Commission since 1988 has been focusing on this growing problem in the Cree community.

It stated in 1988 [quote]:

"Evidence presented to the 1988 Special Hearings clearly shows that the Cree and Naskapi communities do not have adequate resources to develop community infrastructure, community housing and capital projects. The main source of the problem is insufficient federal funding."

In 1996 it stated [quote]:

"The Cree and Naskapi communities continue to suffer the consequences of inadequate housing. Previous Commission reports highlighted housing as a major concern. The supply of houses has always fallen, and continues to fall, far short of the demand."

And in its last report in 2000 it added [quote]:

"The need to construct new houses, replace and renovate existing houses continue to be pressing issues as the backlog on housing needs increases in the Cree communities."

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Native Claims Settlement Act affirms the Agreement. It states in part: "Parliament and the Government of Canada recognize and affirm a special responsibility for the said Cree and Inuit." This gives you parliamentarians a special responsibility in addition to that of government. This recognition is unique in Canadian legislation.

We have fought to defend our right to choose to remain in Canada. However, the Canada that we choose must be a Canada that makes a place for us, as it promised in 1975. In this regard, in 1997 Minister of Indian Affairs, Ron Irwin, set up a negotiation process with former Grand Chief, Matthew Coon Come to see to the implementation of the JBNQA and to establish a new relationship that recognizes the permanent nature of the treaty. Minister Irwin agreed to a negotiation on housing as part of the process. Minister Stewart began this process and now Minister Nault has decided to continue with this initiative. It is designed to be a special process to meet the needs of the Cree people in a unique way, as part of the evolution of our region in James Bay. The 1975 Agreement was a special Canada-Quebec initiative concerning the development of the region. It was not meant to be limited to what happens elsewhere but is a unique experiment designed to break with the tragic history of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

I ask the Committee to consider supporting two initiatives: and to make recommendations to the House to this effect:

That immediate measures be taken to resolve the human problems created in the Cree communities by insufficient and dangerous housing conditions and housing shortages;

That immediate measures be taken by Human Resource Development Canada to set up the programs required to open the door to equitable participation by the Crees in employment opportunities in the James Bay Territory created by development.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. Watchia and Meegwetch!