Nemaska: Yesterday it was incorrectly reported by Canadian Press and on CBC Radio that the Crees of Northern Quebec and the Government of the Province of Quebec had signed an Agreement whereby the Crees would withdraw their court action on forestry and hold discussions with the Province on the outstanding forestry issues.
On October 6, the Grand Chief of the Crees of Eeyou Ischee received from Minister Chevrette a letter outlining his commitment to restart discussions on forestry issues that had been interrupted in June 1998 because of lack of progress. The Minister said that the discussions should take into consideration elements from a letter sent to the Minister by Cree Negotiator, Chief Billy Diamond on September2, 1998.
Chief Diamond's letter outlined among other things the following forestry items as the agenda for such an exchange:
forest allotments for the Cree communities;
implementation of a land-use plan to be developed with Cree involvement;
a moratorium on new cutting areas;
direct involvement of the trappers in discussions;
Cree involvement in the scheduled (fall 98) review of forestry laws and regulations and this also to be the subject of direct negotiations;
information on Quebec revenues from forestry to be provided as part of discussions on revenue sharing;
role of the environment regime in respect to forestry to be discussed;
discussion of principles of respect for Cree fundamental rights, need for Cree involvement in economic development related to forestry, protection of the Cree traditional way of life, partnership in the sharing of forestry derived financial benefits.
The Minister also expressed his agreement with the Grand Chief's suggestion that negotiations are preferable to the courts to resolve problems and that the court challenges need not be pursued vigorously if there is progress in the forthcoming out-of-court negotiations. The process is to last until March 31st, 1999 at which time the parties will evaluate the results. "We would like to resolve this out of court but we need evidence of substantial political will from Quebec to change the present forestry regime and attitude toward the respect for Cree rights," said Grand Chief Dr. CoonCome.
The Cree chiefs will meet to discuss the letters exchanged in order to take the necessary actions. Grand Chief CoonCome confirms that: "We are ready to discuss these matters with Quebec to see if there is a way to reconcile forestry development with the requirements of the Crees for environmental protection, remediation of damages and protection of the Cree way of life and the Cree right to benefit and dispose of the resources of our traditional territory as we see fit. For the present we have decided not to proceed with the filing of our request to the courts for an interlocutory injunction. The procedural matters concerning the larger question and the basic case will proceed."
The Cree court action concerns the Cree aboriginal, treaty and international rights to pursue their traditional way of life over the whole extent of their traditional lands without interference from forestry development. The Cree claim concerns damages that have been experienced by the Crees to date as a result of inappropriate and illegal forestry activities. It also concerns the application of environmental protection to forestry development. The Crees claim that the Quebec legal framework for the conduct of forestry activities in the Territory is in breach of the Cree rights in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and other legal instruments.
The relief asked for is a declaratory statement of Cree rights in the area of forestry, and a declaration that Quebec has breached the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Forest Act, the Act Respecting Lands in the Public Domain, and the Environmental Quality Act. In addition it is asked that Quebec legislation concerning the CAAFs (Contrats d'Amenagement et d' Approvisionnement Forestier- Forest Allotment Contracts) be declared unconstitutional in Eeyou Istchee.
In addition it is asked that orders be granted against certain forestry companies from continuing their cutting on Eeyou Istchee.
The Plaintiffs include the Chiefs of the nine Cree communities, the Grand Chief, the Deputy Grand Chief, the Cree Trappers Association and its president, Mr. Edward Gilpin and 280 hunters and trappers from the Cree territory, Eeyou Istchee.
"In the future we would prefer it if the media would call us to get our side of the story", stated Bill Namagoose Executive Director of the Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority.
Contact: Bill Namagoose: 613 725 7024 or 514 397 1433
Grand Chief CoonCome: 418 923 3253
Brian Craik: 613 761 1655 or 724 1097