The Grand Council of the Crees

Statement By Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses to the AIEQ

A New Relationship With Quebec

Posted: 2001-12-18

Good afternoon.

First let me thank Mr. Michel Dubeau, the President of the Executive Council of the AIEQ, and Mr. Jacques Marquis, the President and Director General of the AIEQ for inviting me to speak here today to this organization which has had such a strong voice in the economic direction Quebec has decided to take during the past quarter century.

I took notice of the publicity for my presentation here today which promises that what I have to say will be very interesting in the context of recent events. The biographical summary which is attached to the programme then describes a Dr. Ted Moses who was born on his parents trapline in the bush, and who has worked extensively in the field of human rights, to gain recognition of the rights of aboriginal peoples in international law.

"Recent events" is, no doubt, a reference to the Agreement in Principle I signed with Premier Landry on the 23rd of October which establishes a new relationship with Quebec, and which among other things would give Cree consent for the construction of the Eastmain Rupert Project, which I know is of particular interest to the members of the AIEQ.

When Mr. Thierry Vandal addressed the AIEQ in Beauport two days after I signed the AIP with Premier Landry, he stated that as a result of the new agreement between the Crees and Quebec he now had confidence that the Eastmain Rupert Project would go ahead, because the consent of the Crees was an essential condition.

It is this "consent" which is at the heart of our new relationship with Quebec. Consent requires two parties: the one who seeks consent, and the other who gives or withholds consent. That essential fact, that Quebec chooses to obtain Cree consent, allows the Cree People and the Cree Nation to enter into the new relationship with Quebec - a relationship based on mutual respect, good will, and common understanding.

Everyone here is familiar with the history of events leading to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). Suffice it to say that the negotiations between the government parties and the aboriginal peoples that resulted in the JBNQA only occurred after contentious months spent in courtrooms had failed to resolve matters.

While this legal battle was being fought, the La Grand Project was being built in the middle of Eeyou Istchee, the Cree Territory. At issue here is the fact that initiation of the project took place without Cree consent. This, to use an old metaphor, was the "bone of contention".

In 1990 long after the JBNQA was signed, and long after we had agreed to stand down in our appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Supreme Court, nevertheless, made an obiter dicta reference to the Crees and Quebec in the Sparrow Judgement. The court said:

"the James Bay development by Quebec Hydro was originally initiated without regard to the rights of the Indians who lived there"

By 1990 when the Sparrow Judgement was handed down, I had already been working for over fifteen years to gain recognition of Cree rights, and the Crees had already been at the United Nations for nine years. So when the Supreme Court belatedly acknowledged the existence of Cree rights sixteen years after the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned our favourable Malouf Judgement, my satisfaction was mixed. Perhaps the Cree Supreme Court appeal in 1974 would have prevailed, but I doubt it, because at that time the "Cree Fact" had not yet been fully established. However, by 1990 when the judgement took place, the Crees were without doubt a fact in Northern Quebec.

Just as there is a "Quebec Fact" in Canada, so there is a "Cree Fact" in Canada and Quebec. This fact is based on the certain knowledge of our existence and the reasonable conclusion that we are not going to go away. This fact is based on the assertion of our rights as a people, the recognition of our rights in the courts, and the recognition of our rights at international fora such as the United Nations, the International Labour Office, and the Organization of American States.

This fact is likewise established through our political and legal work, and our traditional knowledge - our opposition to the Great Whale Project, our concern with environmental protections, our knowledge of wildlife and natural resources, our use of the land, our original ownership, and our love and respect for Eeyou Istchee, our homeland.

What joins us are many of the same things that establish the Cree Fact. But most of all, what joins us in a new relationship with Quebec is the reality that the land we call Eeyou Istchee is much the same land that others call Quebec. The Cree Fact and the Quebec Fact are closely related.

Something did change on October 23rd. Quebec acknowledged our existence in a way that no other government in Canada, federal or provincial has ever done with any other aboriginal people. Quebec decided to include us in our own land in a meaningful and respectful way - To include us in the economy of our territory, to include us in planning for the future, to include us in development, and to include us, not as some kind of inferior people, but as people who have every right to be included.

As reasonable as all of this sounds, you must appreciate that this is not public policy anywhere else in Canada at this time. Federal policy is still based on the idea that aboriginal peoples should be given compensation to give up their rights to benefit from the resources and economies of their lands - that they should be paid to be permanently excluded from their own economic resources - paid to become permanent dependents.

The United Nations has formally censured Canada for this aboriginal policy, so far, however, without effect. Premier Landry is the first government leader to step boldly into this future. It is for this reason that I very seriously have said that his approach is visionary.

What we must understand is that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement is essentially a development agreement for Northern Quebec. It permits certain designated economic development projects, and sets out regimes which govern future development that is compatible with the Cree way of life.

It is also a social and community development agreement, providing for school boards, health boards, community development, housing, schools, recreational and administrative facilities - everything communities need to function; emergency and police services, courts, youth facilities, water treatment, everything.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement links economic development activity to social and community development. The energy development projects in Eeyou Istchee were intended to be sources of employment, business development, and contract opportunities for the Crees in the territory. Economic development made possible by the Agreement is intended to drive social and community development.

The JBNQA is given new life through the AIP we signed with Quebec, which establishes a new relationship based on inclusion. Make no mistake - inclusion is not assimilation. Inclusion means the right to benefit from the resources of Eeyou Istchee. The Cree Nation is no longer seen as being in the way of development. Instead the Crees are recognized as essential to development - the logical centre for development in the Territory. This is an essential characteristic of the Agreement

Because of this new relationship I see a future where the Crees will be genuinely involved as participants in Quebec's economy. I believe that our communities will grow and prosper. The regional economy will not be burdened by the stagnation of massive unemployment. There will be new sources of investment in the economy of the North, and this will spill over into every part of the economy.

This is what Premier Landry and I saw when we met to start this process of renewal several months ago. We saw that it was in our mutual interest to make the JBNQA work, and that it served no interest to prevent its implementation. That is one certain objective of our new relationship with Quebec. I hope Canada will also strive for a new relationship with us.

It is also appropriate that we acknowledge that a debate on this new relationship is taking place in Eeyou Istchee within the Cree Nation. I have been traveling since October 23rd to each of the Cree communities, and I have held consultation meetings almost continuously since that time with each of the Cree entities as well.

I can only say this: Speculation in the Montreal Gazette, and elsewhere that the deal is "unraveling" is not born out when you meet the Cree people in the communities. Our people are realistic and practical. We do not romanticize the hardship associated with our traditional economies. When our people come up to me after consultation meetings which sometimes go on late into the evenings, and shake my hand, I know that our new relationship is on very solid ground.

Sure there is criticism and suspicion. Why should this be surprising? And why in any society should this democratic debate be interpreted as a sign of failure? We have been in a long and difficult struggle to achieve recognition and respect for the Cree People. But at some point goals are achieved which lead to peace and shared objectives for the future. That, I believe, is what we have achieved.

Finally, let me say that Premier Landry and I have both acknowledged that the events of September 11th in the United States changed our thinking, and encouraged us to reach an agreement.

The world is changing, and particularly for aboriginal peoples rights are being recognized. This has been called a rights generation. All over the world, there is a growing realization that the recognition of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms is the only viable alternative to confrontation. For this reason I said that consent is at the heart of our new relationship with Quebec.

Our Cree concern has always been to obtain the most sustainable approach to development. We opposed Great Whale which would have flooded three times as much territory as the proposed Eastmain Rupert Project, yet would have produced very little more energy. The NBR project, which is now off the table, would have flooded eight times as much territory.

The AIP states explicitly that:
"Hydroelectric and mining development projects will continue to be subject to the applicable environmental legislation and to the environmental and social protection regime stipulated in Section22 of the JBNQA"

Cree consent is not a waiver of existing legislation. That is not within our authority, and is not our intent.

As you all know I have always been vigilant in defence of the rights of the Cree People. I have also made it clear, however, that the Crees do not oppose development. In fact, there is an internationally recognized "right to development" from which we benefit.

It is our job now to keep these rights compatible. We can do this by acknowledging that aboriginal peoples also have the right to development, and that they must be able to benefit from the resources and natural wealth of their own lands.

This is neither my original idea nor Premier Landry's. This was one of the principal conclusions and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. This is explicitly and formally what the United Nations Human Rights Committee has told Canada it must do. And this is what we have started to do here in Eeyou Istchee and Quebec.

Thank you