The Grand Council of the Crees

Letter to Ashley Iserhoff President of the James Bay Cree Youth Council

Posted: 0000-00-00

Dear Ashley:

I am writing to you in reply to your letter of October 30th, 2001. I welcome comment that is aimed to better understand the Agreement in Principle (AIP) with the Government of Quebec. However I find in your actions over the past few days a deliberate strategy to publicly distort the AIP and the process surrounding it. I therefore take this opportunity to set the record straight by commenting on your letter as follows:

You ask for more time to consider the AIP. From the signing of the agreement on October 23rd we have two months to review and consider it and to elaborate the text of the final agreement. The AIP is not a final agreement and the comments that we receive now will help guide us in negotiating the final text. I believe that two months is sufficient time to make a decision, if we focus our energies on this task. If we take longer, we risk losing the agreement altogether. Just as there are those in Cree society who want more, there are those in Quebec society who would also want more. If there is a consensus after two months, I will act on it.

We have used financial experts in the negotiation of this agreement, as has Quebec. I do not know on what basis you have made your calculations. It also does not serve the interests of the Cree Nation to debate the figures in a letter, but it should be kept in mind that the vast majority of the revenues generated by development are off-set by equipment costs, wages and financing charges. Moreover, the adequacy of the funding going to the Crees should be judged in terms of whether it would be a significant boost to the Cree communities, to Cree employment and to our economy. I believe that it will be a very significant source of funding for our Nation. It is the largest payment to be made to an aboriginal Nation in respect to economic and community development. We will determine how we build our communities and economies with this money. I have confidence that this will be used wisely and for the benefit of all.

I do not understand how you have somehow linked the ownership in enterprises on the territory to the Dispute Resolution Mechanism for the Agreement. The two have nothing to do with each other. You state in your letter that Cree ownership of the enterprises on the territory is preferable. I agree. However, nobody is going to suddenly give the Crees their businesses. With the money provided by the final agreement we will be able to invest in these companies, if we so choose, and Cree people will become workers and managers of these firms.

In your letter you say that we should have a veto on development. In the AIP Quebec asks for Cree consent. If we used a veto to stop all development many people, including Crees, would lose their employment or employment prospects. Moreover, it would lead to confrontation. If at a later date we then at some point decided to accept a mine or other similar project, we would be faced with the issue of environmental and social protection standards. In the case of forestry, the standards will be increased because of this proposed agreement. The AIP does not diminish the Cree rights in Section 22 of the James Bay Agreement and through this regime we will continue to seek improved standards for environmental and social protection. In the case of the pollution caused by mining, that you cite in your letter, much of it comes from mines that were opened prior to the James Bay Agreement. Today there is a new mining policy in place. We will have to be vigilant in the case of mines such as the Grevette and Troilus Mines to see if the new environmental standards protect the quality of the water and environment and if they do not, we must seek higher standards and remedial works. This is an issue that cannot be addressed with a veto because we must continually pressure to improve the standards to protect the environment, just as we must always pressure to make sure that those young Crees who today do not have jobs are invited and helped to qualify for employment opportunities created by development.

In regard to the issue of Oujé Bougoumou, because of the new relationship that we now have with Quebec, the Minister of the Environment has admitted to the problem and is working with us on the solutions to the health, environmental and community problems created by the situation. The improved relationship with Quebec is cause for hope that these matters will be resolved. Quebec will also have to take measures with the people of Chapais and Chibougamau, as they do not yet seem to have been considered, to see if they share the problem with the Cree community. As I stated above, the problems stem largely from mines in this area that were approved before 1975. However, I would like to know, as I am sure those people who have been at risk are eager to find out, just how widespread this problem is. We will do whatever is necessary to resolve this matter.

You also complain that tourism should be the primary future development activity on the territory. First of all, tourism will never provide employment for all Crees. Do you have studies that suggest otherwise? Moreover, even with the dams there are many people who would come to Eeyou Istchee for a vacation. The Great Whale project, which we opposed, would have flooded over 3300 square kilometers while the Eastmain-Rupert Diversion will flood less than a third of that area. There will continue to be a tourism potential after the new diversion project. I know that some of the Cree miners who worked at Troilus invested their money in a tourism venture. Future development will have to be a balance of different activities, including forestry, mining, tourism and hydroelectric development as well as manufacturing, construction etc. Not everyone is suited or wants to work in tourism. Moreover, what would be the impact on our way of life if this were expanded to be many times greater than what it is today? I say that we should develop all kinds of ventures, including tourism. The Cree people are ready to play a major role in development. We have waited too long by the side of the road while others find work and investment opportunities in the Territory.

While there are those who have work in local government, at the Cree Regional Authority, at the School and Health Boards or in other Cree institutions, there are just as many other Crees who do not have jobs. I see many youth sitting at the back of the meeting rooms, silent and without a chance at employment. These people will need the jobs that we can create with the funding that we will receive under this presently proposed agreement. Where would you find the jobs for these people? I praise the Cree institutions for what they have accomplished but we must work together because we have much more that needs to be done. By addressing the problems of unemployment and lack of community facilities we will help to motivate children in school and we will give people ways of addressing personal and family problems. If we decide to fight, then investment in our communities and in job creation will have to wait still longer while we spend our resources on legal and public campaigns.

You suggest that Quebec will punish us in the future if we do not conform to their wishes, by withholding payments under the new Agreement. Quebec asks in the AIP for accountability in terms of how the funds are spent. Our people will want the same thing. The final agreement will ensure that the payments continue and that the Crees are accountable and spend the funding wisely. Moreover, with the increased economic strength that we will gain with the present proposal, we will be more effective in influencing public policy. We will work with Quebec in a cooperative manner to accomplish our goals. We have never been daunted by threats in the past to funding of the School Board or Health Board, just because we disagree with Quebec or Canada on some issue, what makes you believe that our resolve will be different in respect to economic development? We will continue to protect our rights.

You suggest that the funding for "running" our community sanitation systems, fire services, creating community centers and "a host of other obligations" have not been properly considered. The cost of running the sanitation systems, fire services and community centers is part of our Cree/Naskapi Act funding and comes from Canada and not from Quebec. The obligations of Quebec in section 28 are assumed by the Crees in the Agreement, but the funding for these will be covered by the amounts to be received. This not only includes buildings, but also employment initiatives and help for Cree entrepreneurs. In the past Quebec has paid small amounts in regard to some of these matters. In the future the funding will be substantially more. We have examined the numbers and they are correct.

I assure you that we have fully studied the funding. We have looked at the present value and we realize that the future funding will likely exceed the amount of $70 million per year as the products extracted from the Territory increase in volume and value over time. I also do not understand your false allegation that we proceed with "blind trust" in this matter. What has been accomplished in the AIP has been done on the basis of the efforts that the Crees have made for many years in the international forums, fighting the Great Whale Project and in fighting for our rights on other issues. Our people have waited and helped us fight for years. They have gone without employment and without facilities while we fought to protect our rights to these things. We must know when it is time to settle.

The proposed agreement is an implementation of the Quebec obligations in Section 28 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It in no way diminishes the rights of the Cree people. On the contrary, it implements them, as the Crees have always demanded. The difference is that in the new agreement we, the Crees will decide the priorities.

While I appreciate some of the points that you raise in your letter, the letter seems to prejudge the proposed agreement and does not reflect a considered understanding of it. Indeed, rather than allowing time for debate on the issue when we came to Mistissini on the 30th of October, you sent out the letter the same day and four days after your press release of October 26th wherein you imply that the process is an assault on our democracy. Why could you not wait to address this concern of yours in the public process or why did you not wait until we had time to talk on these matters and to exchange information? I am disappointed that someone who represents the youth acted without giving time for due consideration of the issues. Did you consult the Cree Youth Leaders on your position? I have spent my life protecting Cree rights including our right to democratic process. We are faced with a unique opportunity. Those who call for indefinite delays so that we can consider the offer at their leisure do not understand negotiations. Moreover, they will also assume the responsibility if the opportunity represented by the AIP is lost.

In Mistissini before the public assembly you approached me on some of the concerns set out in your letter. At the time I invited you to review the financial arrangements and gave you my views with respect to other issues. At the public assembly you then proceeded to throw the same stones at the AIP and process that led to its development. It was as if we had never met on the issues.

It is much easier to destroy initiatives than it is to build a nation. I have heard those who speak of "taking back Eeyou Istchee". These people presume that we have already lost it. I have also heard the theory that the Crees will pass a law that will basically stop development and force others to obey a Cree government. I believe that we already have the means to govern ourselves and Eeyou Istchee and are doing so. By investing in our people and in development on Eeyou Istchee we will increase our presence and role in the economy and governance of the territory. This is the only way that we can develop. Passing decrees and using vetoes to stop development will only lead to confrontation. Do you really expect to win such a fight or do you want to martyr the Cree people? It is time to seek peace and reconciliation with our neighbours. If you believe differently, ask elders, women and Cree youth, beyond those that may be collaborating in your campaign, whether what you are doing is in the interest of the Cree Nation.

I again invite you to take the time to try to understand the reasons that things had to be done as they were and to understand the offer itself. I believe that we must decide this matter soon.

This is an important issue the outcome of which will strongly influence the futures of our communities and of our nation. We must act together if we are to build the Cree Nation.

Sincerely,

Ted Moses, Grand Chief, GCCEI

 

Cc:
Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash
All Cree Chiefs and Councils
All Youth Chiefs and Youth Councils
Bertie Wapachee Chairman CBHSSJB
Mabel Herodier Chairperson CSB
Thomas Coon President Cree Trappers Association
Smally Petawabano Regional Council of Elder