The Grand Council of the Crees

Grand Chief Matthew Mukash's Remarks at Premier's Event at HydroQuebec, Montreal

Grand Chief Matthew Mukash's Remarks at Premier's Event at HydroQuebec, Montreal

Posted: 2007-01-11

Today I stand here with mixed emotions, as you all know this has not been an easy journey for the Cree Nation.

In 1975, again in the context of massive hydro-electric development, the Cree Nation entered into the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. In that agreement the Cree Nation was promised that it could maintain its traditional way of life while benefiting from the economic development which would result from the projects. It did not take long for the Cree to realize that the governments only understood our treaty as providing them the right to develop, while ignoring the obligations they had undertook in favour of the Cree Nation.
This is why in the early 1980's we decided to oppose further hydro-electric development in out traditional territory, and thus mounted the important opposition to the Great Whale hydro project. We succeeded to stop this project, and we vowed never to allow further development until governments respected our rights and implemented our treaty.

In 2002, the government of Quebec decided to build a new relationship with the Cree Nation. Quebec finally committed to implement our treaty, the JBNQA. We in exchange agreed to contemplate further development in our territory.

In the scope of the New Relationship Agreement, there was a provision whereby we would look at the possibility and impacts of diverting one of our, and Quebec's, most historic and significant river systems. The process was comprehensive, and with representatives of all three governments - Canada, Quebec and the Cree Nation. We tried to create the mechanisms whereby the voice of all people concerned with this project to be heard. Some went beyond the hearings, and voiced their concerns through local democratic mechanisms, and others engaged in media campaigns.

For the Cree Nation, regardless of the outcome, it was important for us to stay united. To the leadership, we did this through respecting the rights of any individual or group to voice their concerns, and to have the opportunity to be heard by the review panels and in public hearings. We have lived upon this land for as many sunrises and sunsets have graced the earth. Our mothers and fathers are buried throughout the land, and are a part of every living thing that it upon it. Their presence is felt and they are remembered in every part of our traditional territory.

When I was younger, I lived here in Montreal for a number of years to pursue my studies at various educational institutions. This fall my family and I spend Christmas here in Montreal, and it was the first time that I did not see snow in Montreal on Christmas day. Today, on January 11th and there still no snow here yet. When I left Whapmagoostui, which is my home, yesterday afternoon, it was disturbing to see that in January the Hudson Bay has not yet frozen. Our elders in Whapmagoostui say that there have never seen this happen. A global climate change is happening as we speak. We hear of disturbing climatic changes throughout the world today. Our elders tells that as the human body often does, the Earth Mother is about to cleanse herself of the toxins and impurities that exist with her surface. I ask you therefore, ladies and gentlemen, can humankind afford to further do damage to the Earth. Can we afford to further dramatically change the natural balance in nature without threatening our very existence? Isn't time to revaluate what we referred as our standard of living? Can we afford to continue extract the Earth's resources beyond our basic human needs for survival? I want you to think about this very carefully.

It is never lightly that we enter into relations that will impact our relationship with the things of importance to our people, and of spiritual significance. Yet we as a Nation decided a number of years ago to enter into relations with the Quebec people and Nation. Throughout the process, the Cree Nation has reiterated its' support for the continuation of good relations. We as a people and Nation will continue with our support of the New Relationship Agreement, and this will mean that our people and Nation will live with the impacts of this development.

From the initial developments in James Bay, there have been many social, environmental and health impacts upon our peoples. However, we have also been able to build new communities and facilities to meet the growing needs of our population. Employment in development activities has created opportunities for our youth, and allow us to raise our standard of living - providing we have the resources to train and integrate our work force within the projects in our traditional lands.

While today, this announcement marks the culmination of the provisions of the New Relationship Agreement in terms of benefits to the Quebec side of the relationship, it by no means is the end of the commitments to the Cree Nation who will live with the impacts of this project.

I want to point out the loss of a substantial program to train and employ Cree workers that was recently cancelled by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada . The Cree Human Resources Territorial programs was funded under INAC's treaty obligations, the Ministry unilaterally decided to cut the programs which has a significant impact on the ability of Cree youth and workers to obtain training and certification in trades to work on the new project announced today. I know the current Minister of Indian Affairs Jim Prentice wishes to resolve our issues and enter into an agreement with us, but unfortunately the federal bureaucracy at the Department of Indian Affairs is impeding the resolution of this. The Cree people's patience with the federal government is coming to an end.

We are investing our trust and confidence into the Quebec Nation and people, that they will honour the many outstanding provisions of the New Relationship Agreement with our people. There are still important issues to address Mr. Premier. We are encouraged by the open relationship with yourself and your government to work with us to achieve realization of the obligations set out in the agreements and relations for the benefit of the Cree Nation. The resolution of the Justice and Policing Agreement in the Cree Nation of Wemindji yesterday was a step towards this. There are many more steps and issues but we look forward to working with you and Quebec to bring more of these provisions to realization. It has only been five years since the signing of the New Relationship Agreement; however, it has been 31 years since the policing and justice provisions were created in the JBNQA - so it has been a long journey.