The Grand Council of the Crees

Letter Sent to Grand Chief, Grand Chief's Response

Letter Sent to Grand Chief from Guy Chevrette, Miinister of Transport, Minister delagated to Aboriginal Affairs, Minister responsible for Wildlife and Parks

Posted: 1999-02-10


February 10, 1999
Mr. Matthew Coon Come
Grand Chief
Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec (sic)
2 Lakeshore Road
Nemaska Quebec, J0Y 3B0

Dear Grand Chief,

The Quebec government has always been open and active regarding Issues with the Crees. We have made significant progress together since we signed, on March 27, 1998, the Agreement on the Implementation or the Memorandum of Understanding of May 23, 1995. Many meetings have been held in various fields, including forestry, tourism, trapping, police services, and agreements have been reached on a number of subjects. At the same time, we have reached financing agreements with Cree communities and some associations further to the application of the five-year program. All these negotiations were transparent and held in good faith with your chief negotiator, Billy Diamond.

Considering that our negotiations had produced conclusive results, and following our meetings in June and September 1998, I was under the impression that measures would be taken to suspend legal proceedings in the case of Mario Lord et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec et al. thus enabling our respective negotiators to continue with their work unimpeded.

However, it has come to my attention that not only have proceedings in the Mario Lord case not been suspended, but the Crees intend to file an application for an interim Injunction to stop forestry operations. You will understand that it is becoming increasingly difficult, not to say incompatible, to continue negotiating while the Cree side is placing emphasis on legal proceedings undertaken, in particular, against the Quebec government. It is time to choose.

That is why I propose that we meet, as soon as possible, with all the chiefs of the Cree communities, to find out what your intentions are, to discuss what kind of relations we can establish for our continued discussions, and agree on practical steps to continue our discussions in a context of mutual trust.

Until this meeting is held, I feel it is best to suspend the implementation of the May 23, 1995 Memorandum of Understanding, which includes the adoption of the programming for the second year of the five-year community projects plans.

I invite you to contact my executive assistant Charles Larochelle at (819) 643-6980, to set out the details of the meeting.

Please be assured that I remain attentive to the needs of the Cree people and am always prepared to work energetically on the dialogue we have initiated.

Guy Chevrette
Miinister of Transport
Minister delagated to Aboriginal Affairs
Minister responsible for Wildlife and Parks

c.c. Mr. Billy Diamond
Mr. Kenneth Gilpin
Mr. Walter Hughboy
Mr. John Kitchen
Mr. Kenny Loon
Mr. Matthew Mukash
Ms. Violet Panchanos
Mr. George Wapachee
Ms. Louise Wapachee

The Grand Chief's Response

Premier Lucien Bouchard
Minister Guy Chevrette
Minister Jacques Brassard
Hotel du Gouvernement
Quebec, Quebec

SUBJECT: Cree-Quebec Relations, the 1995 M.O.U. and 1998 M.O.U. implementation agreements, forestry and Mario Lord legal proceedings.




Dear Mr. Premier and Ministers:

On behalf of the Cree Nation, I wish to respond to Minister Chevrette's letter to me dated February 10, 1999.

This letter could have a very significant impact on Cree-Quebec relations. Consequently, we believe it appropriate to address this letter to you, Mr. Premier, as well as to Minister Chevrette and Minister Brassard as the Minister of Natural Resources.

At the outset, we must express our disappointment, although not our surprise, in regard to some of the positions in Minister Chevrette's letter, which are obviously unacceptable to the Cree Nation.

The Cree Chiefs have reviewed the letter of Minister Chevrette, the problems relating to the negotiations between the Quebec Government and the Cree Nation, the continuing and accelerating problems for the Crees caused by Quebec's position on forestry and the arbitrary approach of the Government of Quebec to the breach of its commitments to the Cree Nation.

While Minister Chevrette mentions a number of meetings in various sectors relating to the M.O.U. of May, 1995 and even financial arrangements pursuant thereto on the one hand, the Government of Quebec indicates that it is prepared to unilaterally breach these agreements. The ostensible reason given is his interpretation of the discussions of the meetings of June and September, 1998, relating to the Mario Lord forestry proceedings.

The Quebec Government is well aware that access to the Courts is a fundamental right of the Crees (as well as a fundamental human right) which your government cannot prevent. Furthermore, the experience of the last quarter century is incontrovertible evidence that negotiations and legal proceedings are not incompatible, not unusual and not an obstacle to sincere negotiations. The Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw. at the same time as it endorsed negotiated settlements, recognized the important role of the Courts in having Indian rights respected.

Moreover, the 1995 M.O.U. and the 1998 implementation agreements specifically provide that they have been negotiated and concluded without prejudice to the positions of any of the parties regarding their respective rights and obligations under the JBNQA and elsewhere. They also provide that such positions may be pertaining to the JBNQA, to legal proceedings, or other issues.

Minister Chevrette's letter is to us a threat, a provocation and a convenient excuse for the Government of Quebec for seeking to withdraw from its commitments pursuant to the 1995 M.O.U. and the 1998 implementation agreements (raising the obvious question of whether the government of Quebec had the intention to carry them out in the first place).

The 1995 M.O.U. and the 1998 implementation agreements confirm and give rise to Cree rights independently of Cree constitutionalized treaty rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and Cree aboriginal rights.

Should the Government of Quebec refuse to carry out its obligations and commitments pursuant to the M.O U. and M.O.U. implementation agreements, it is our present intention to institute specific legal proceedings relating to this particularly insolent breach of Cree rights.

It is also our view that our Nation to Nation relationship requires respect, not wanton disregard, of agreements. Nor should legal proceedings in any circumstances be a barrier to implementation by governments of their constitutional obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and governmental obligations under other agreements.

In regard to forestry issues, you will appreciate that our ancestors were placed on this land on which we have survived since time immemorial in order to coexist, to safeguard, to protect and to preserve for generations to come the continuance of Life.

We have survived on and lived in harmony with the land and its resources through the continued practice of our traditional beliefs, values, customs, traditions and philosophies as handed down by our forefathers since time immemorial. We have also governed ourselves as a sovereign people in accordance with the Sacred law of the Great Creator.

It is in this context that we instituted the Coon Come and other legal proceedings and, in July, 1998, the Mario Lord forestry proceedings.

The Cree Nation has made many efforts to seek an accommodation with the Quebec Government on use of the forestry resources of Eeyou Istchee, especially since 1995. Despite the promises of Quebec representatives, little progress has been achieved on the protection of the Cree way of life and the negotiation of a new forestry regime for Eeyou Istchee, among other matters.

Furthermore, as a result of our meeting in September, 1998, the Crees did not proceed with plans to file, in the fall of 1998, an interlocutory injunction This was to allow the Quebec Government time to seriously negotiate a new agreement on forestry. In fact, no such meaningful or substantive negotiations have taken place regarding the forestry issue.

On the other hand, forestry operations have continued unabated in Eeyou Istchee and at least 600 square kilometers of land were clear-cut in 1998. Moreover m Eeyou Istchee, approximately an additional 15,000 square kilometers of land have been allocated to forestry companies since the signing of the M.O.U. in 1995 despite the so-called willingness of the Quebec Government to negotiate in good faith.

Insofar as the twin tracks of court proceedings and negotiations are concerned and your dictate that the Crees must choose one or the other, you are surely aware that forestry issues have been part of ongoing legal proceedings in the Coon Come cases for a number of years and these did not prevent discussions respecting forestry matters.

Your Government now indicates it will refuse to discuss with those who use democratic and legal means such as the Courts, yet it has negotiated and even signed agreements in the past in the context of conflicts on the ground.

The Cree leadership is rather surprised that the Government of Quebec persists in requesting the Crees to suspend the Lord proceedings while making few attempts to meet the deadline of March 31, 1999 for tangible results on the forestry issues, while proceeding with the process to update the Forest Act with little Cree input, while it is on the verge of approving new 25 year management plans without the consent of the Crees, and while the Government of Quebec allows forestry companies to continue with expansion of forestry roads in Eeyou Istchee in striking breach of Section 22 of the JBNQA.

The Cree leadership is also very disappointed at how the Government of Quebec has attempted to mischaracterize the extensive and competent Cree negotiation efforts directed by our chief negotiator, Dr. Chief Billy Diamond.

Although we are reluctant to meet with you in this context, it would perhaps be useful to make our respective positions very clear. We believe that you, Mr. Premier, you, Mr. Chevrette and you, Mr. Bras Brassard, as the new Minister of Natural Resources, must attend such a meeting. However, we emphasize immediately that consent to such a meeting is not consent to suspend any proceedings or recourses whatsoever, including the Mario Lord proceedings, and should not be understood or represented by Quebec as consultations with the Cree Nation.

Since the Government of Quebec has chosen to indicate its demands in writing, we wish to make the following immediate demands respecting forestry:

1. The Government of Quebec should commit itself to a comprehensive agreement with the Cree Nation on forestry which, among other provisions, would confirm a special regime relating to harvesting activities and forestry activities in Northern Quebec, confirm the protections relating to the Cree way of life and use of the land, recognize the role in forestry of the tallymen and Cree hunters and Trappers, establish suitable standards of forestry management, provide for appropriate enforcement of the regime and provide for revenue sharing. The agreement would be a complementary agreement to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and be confirmed in special federal and Quebec legislation contemplating a unique "forestry" regime in Eeyou Istchee.

2. The current process respecting revisions to the Forest Act should be suspended immediately pending the completion of this comprehensive agreement.

3. No additional 25 year forest management plans relating to Eeyou Istchee should be approved without the consent of the Cree Nation. Moreover, the administrative process of public examination of such management plans must be delayed pending the completion of this comprehensive agreement.

4. All forestry operations affecting Eeyou Istchee carried on without the consent of the Cree Nation should be immediately suspended unless and until there is a comprehensive agreement between the Quebec Government and the Cree Nation on forestry operations and activities in Eeyou Istchee.

5.During the negotiations on a new comprehensive agreement, Quebec must commit itself to respect the present provisions relating to forestry in the JBNQA including the application of environmental and social impact assessments and the general provisions of the environmental and social protection regime in the JBNQA to any forestry operations consented to by the Crees.

6. The mandate of the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment regarding forestry exploitation and management plans must be respected and the Committee provided immediately with additional resources in order to carry out its important mandate.


Before closing, we note we have been awaiting the Quebec Government's response on a number of these issues since late 1997.

We intend to follow the direction of the members of the Cree Nation to take the measures required to have Cree rights relating to Eeyou Istchee and forestry operations respected once and for all.

For obvious reasons, this letter is without prejudice to Cree rights and the Cree positions in various Court proceedings, including the Coon Come and Lord proceedings. This letter is also under reserve of Cree rights respecting breach of the M.O.U. and related agreements on implementation thereof.

Yours very truly,

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come


cc: Bernard Landry, Deputy Premier, Minister of State,
Minister of Economy and Finance, Minister of Industry and Trade
Jacques Leonard, Chairman of the Treasury Board, Minister for Administration and the Public Service, Minister of State
Pauline Marois, Minister of Health and Social Services, Minister of State
Louise Hard, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Greater Montreal, Minister of State
Francois Legault, Minister of Education and Youth Protection, Minister of State
Diane Lermeux, Minister of Labour and Employment, Minister of State
Serge Ménard, Minister of Public Security
Robert Perreault, Minister of Relations with Citizens and Immigration
Agnes Maltais, Minister of Culture and Communications
André Boisclair, Minister of the Social Solidarity
Rita Dionne-Marsolais, Minister of Revenue
Nicole Léger, Minister for Child and Family Welfare
Jean-Pierre Jolivet, Minister of Regions
Guy Julien, Minister for Industry and Trade
Paul Begin, Minister of the Environment
Maximne Arsenault, Minister for Tourism
David Cliche, Minister for Information Highway and Government Services
Gilles Baril, Minister of Public Works
Jocelyne Caron, Chief Government Whip
Linda Groupil, Minister of Justice, Minister responsible of the Status of Women
Louise Beaudoin, Minister of International Relations, Minister responsible of Relations with French-Speaking Communities
Jean Rochon, Minister responsible of Research, Science and Technology
Joseph Facal, Minister of Canadian intergovernmental Affairs
Rémi Trudel, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Jane Stewart, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Christine Stewart, Minister of the Environment of Canada
Ralph Goodale, Minister of Natural Resources Canada
Guy St-Julien, Member of Parliament for Abitibi Baie
Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment
Canadian Council of the Forest Ministers