The Grand Council of the Crees

A letter by Weemish Petagumskum sent to the editor of the Nation magazine, discussing the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

A letter by Weemish Petagumskum sent to the editor of the Nation magazine, discussing the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

Posted: 2005-07-13

July 13, 2005

Dear Editor,

I wanted to comment on your editorial, 'Elections are opportunity for nation building', to provide a different understanding of what the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) represents to the Crees.  My father, Joseph Petagumskum, who passed away this spring, was the Chief of Whapmagoostui when the legal instrument was negotiated.  Eventually, he signed that important accord on behalf of our community.

My father, in his own way, let me know that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was a legal instrument the Crees are using to develop a relationship with the governments of Canada and Quebec.  This relationship has been in place for over thirty years now, and over that time the Crees have used the JBNQA as a means of ongoing Nation building.  My father also explained to me that the JBNQA helped our people reverse the historical neglect of the Crees' needs by the Canadian and Quebec governments.  Cree control of education, health, human resources, and other areas of importance are directly tied to the JBNQA.

The JBNQA is not "One of the biggest sellouts" as you put it.  It is not a road map leading to the alienation of Cree alnd and rights, as some would have us believe.  The JBNQA has become the shield with which the Crees have successfully protected the Cree culture and various types of Cree rights from external governments and big business.  The JBNQA has also helped promote and protect the general welfare of the Crees.  Before the JBNQA the Crees had nothing to use legally to promote and protect their traditional way of life.  To this day, even though Aboriginal rights are protected under Section 25 of the Constitution of Canada, many First Nations remain defenseless without a legal instrument to use to advance their rights and interests.

While many First Nations have been using moral-based arguments to advance their interests without success, and while many are still holding out and waiting for the goose to lay the golden egg of sovereignty and self-government, over the lasy thirty years the Cree Nation leadership has been taking practical incremental measures to ensure its realization.  The strange thing is that many Crees do even see that this has been taking place all along and within the context of the JBNQA.

It is well-advised political campaigns and strategies, combative negotiations, and carefully planned court battles, using legal instruments such as, the JBNQA, which have earned the Cree Nation respect nationally and internationally.  Ill-advised agendas can only serve to undermine the hard-earned credibility and respect that is collectively enjoyed by the Cree Nation.  Can we realistically expect any worthwhile agreements to be acquired when some advise us to "take a minimum of one year to consider any agreement affecting the Crees in the long term"? It is a no-brainer that there are civil servants in the governments of Canada and Quebec who feel that it is their job to protect the public purse and prevent such agreements with the First Nations from being concluded.  It would be wise for aspirants to the positions of Grand Chief or Deputy Grand-Chief to at least learn the Cree language so that they can communicate with their constituents if they are lucky enough to be elected.  Common sense advice given in the Cree language might also be helpful for one to develop public ideas that are more practical and conducive to Cree needs.

It is easy for those who have never negotiated in a high level and difficult atmosphere to criticize the incredible accomplishments made to date.  Like my father who wored hard and supported his family, our National leadership has done very well in supporting the whole nation. I trust my father's advice still today and I resent those who have yet to prove themselves denigrating his judgment.

Weemish Petagumskum