We are Eeyouch. We are a people. We have our own land, Eeyou Astchee. We are an organized society of Aboriginal people forming part of the community of the world's indigenous peoples. We are the original inhabitants of our territory, and have occupied our land and governed ourselves for the past 9000 years.
At least four times - in 1670, 1870, 1898, and 1912 - Eeyou Astchee, our traditional lands and waters, have changed status, purportedly, transferred between kings as gifts, or deeded between colonial companies and governments, all without our knowledge, and certainly without our consent. It has always been assumed that we the James Bay Crees, the actual owners and occupants, simply passed with the land, without voice, without the right to determine or even know what was being done with us.
Now in 1995, although we live in a modern and democratic state, protected by the Canadian Constitution with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our people and our territory may once again be transferred from sovereign to sovereign, this time from Canada to what may become the newly independent state of QuÃ©bec. And although there is now a United Nations, with a Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a vast array of international human rights instruments that should protect us, a process has been set in motion that would forcibly remove the Crees from Canada, and incorporate us and our lands in this new state.
What is our remedy against this threat to deprive us of our rights, status, and interests - to hand a whole people over against its democratic will to another state? What action can we, the Crees, take now to prevent this assault on democracy and human rights?
This book holds part of the answer. Herein we set out our rights as the Cree people, as one of the world's indigenous peoples, as citizens of Canada and residents of QuÃ©bec, as a people with internationally protected human rights. This is a timely call to avoid the tragic repetition of history, to invoke fairly and democratically, the principles of equality and non-discrimination and to respect the Crees' right to self-determination.
Although this book has its origins in the possible separation of QuÃ©bec from Canada, its scope extends far beyond the QuÃ©bec referendum into the future of the Crees in Canada as a self-governing people. It explores our rights as a people bound to Canada by a treaty and the land itself, and it examines our right of self-determination as it pertains to our aspirations and our rights to share equally in the development of our country.
The myth persists in QuÃ©bec and elsewhere in Canada, that this country consists of two founding nations or peoples. Ths fiction constitutes a practical denial of our presence, our rights and status, and our role in the history, economy, and well-being of this country.
Now as Canada debates its own possible disintegration, many would prefer once again to conduct this debate without facing the troubling and far-reaching questions regarding our rights as an Aboriginal people. Many Aboriginal peoples would also prefer to stay in the background and allow the "non-natives" to fight this out among themselves.
For the Crees this is no longer possible. It is our people and our own land that is being threatened, and the Crees must be heard or we may become the victims of our own silence, passed along with the land.
It will become clear when you read this book that we have been making extensive preparations to defend ourselves. We know our rights, and we can reply strongly to every one of the many false arguments that have been made by those who consider it in their own interest to deny our rights.
This debate will continue in Canada - the need to recognize and respect the rights of the Crees and other Aboriginal peoples in order to advance the well-being of all of its citizens, to strengthen its democracy, its respect for human rights, and its future as a country that includes Aboriginal peoples in its own vision of itself.
That has not yet happened. Perhaps the unity debate, and the examination of Cree rights and status that it brings into focus, will help to bring this about. That is certainly one of our goals, and perhaps the most important reason to read this study.
In any case, this is certain: The Crees will be here. We are not going anywhere. Nothing will be done with us, now or in the future, without our informed consent.
Matthew Coon Come,
Nemaska, Eeyou Astchee - October 1996