The Grand Council of the Crees

News: 7 Generations Aboriginal Business Intelligence Luncheon - Dr. Ted Moses

7 Generations Aboriginal Business Intelligence Luncheon

Posted: 2002-06-17



Good afternoon. When the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement was signed in 1975 it was hailed as Canada's "first modern treaty"-proof that land claims could be resolved through negotiation, proof that treaty-making with aboriginal peoples was still a viable way for economic development and nation-building to be accomplished in Canada.

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement contains essentially two kinds of provisions: provisions to do the things that are done in every city, town, and village in Canada-build water systems, sewers, schools; establish police departments, fire departments, and health clinics; construct roads, housing, and other essentials. That is the first category. In the second category are the big forward looking provisions of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement that are intended to ensure the community and economic development of the Cree Nation. These are what the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement is really about-the future of the Cree Nation, the development of Northern Québec.

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement is, among other things, a land claims agreement that creates aboriginal treaty rights, an out of court settlement of the Crees' legal action to stop the James Bay Project, and a development agreement for Northern Québec. During the negotiations, the Crees negotiated for some benefits that ordinarily would not have been the subject of a land claims agreement-schools, roads, health services-things that in most other places in Canada people already had. As Mr. John Ciaccia, Québec's negotiator explained in his introduction to the official edition of the Agreement:

"These are all of the steps that would have to be taken, these are all of the services that would have to be provided and developed anyway, regardless of whether or not there was a James Bay project."

To make myself perfectly clear, the only reason these issues were included in the negotiations was because we were in desperate need of these essential services and community infrastructures. The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement promised to upgrade and hasten the arrival of these normal programmes and make their provision obligatory. Despite this, these essentials have come slowly and with great reluctance. It is only because of Cree persistence, litigation, and a campaign lasting over two decades to implement the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement that these obligations are starting to be met, and much still remains to be done.

With regard to the second category, community and economic development for the Cree Nation-certainly one of the central subjects of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, I can say that the government obligations in the Agreement have been virtually ignored. In fact, as time passed since 1975, the policy of the federal government has evolved toward a conception of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement as nothing but a commitment to provide to the Crees what is provided to every First Nation community in Canada. In other words, in the view of the federal government our "first modern treaty" entitles the Crees to very little if anything.

Of course the Cree leadership has never accepted this view of Cree rights and entitlements. Our understanding and appreciation of our rights as indigenous peoples under international law, as Canadian citizens, as aboriginal peoples in Canada, as the Cree Nation in Eeyou Istchee and Québec, and as Crees with treaty rights created by the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, has become more and more perceptive and acute. The body of international law and domestic jurisprudence concerning aboriginal rights has been affected in no small way because of the work we have done-all because we expect governments to respect their own laws and do what they solemnly promise to do.

Having spent the first twenty-seven years after the signing of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement fighting to obtain clean water supplies, schools, and such things for our communities, we are now turning as a society to the central theme of the Agreement, community and economic development for the Cree Nation and for Northern Québec. It is on this issue that I wish to concentrate this afternoon.

On the 7th of February this year, I signed an agreement with the Government of Québec which fundamentally alters the aboriginal/government paradigm in Canada. This agreement, the New Relationship Agreement between Québec and the Cree Nation, has been designated as "La Paix des Brave".

It is the first and only agreement of its kind in Canada, and as far as we know, in the world. Before I explain the elements of this new agreement, it is essential that we ask ourselves why Québec agreed to change the course of history with this agreement. Why is our agreement called "La Paix des Braves"? The answer to this question defines our new agreement.

"La Paix des Braves" refers to the courage to make peace-the realization that both parties in a conflict have a common interest which emerges from their mutual reconciliation. This is the essence of our new relationship with Québec. Québec understands that the interests of the Cree Nation and the interests of Québec coincide.

This is a perception of aboriginal peoples that, unfortunately, is not yet understood by the federal government-that the national interests of Canada and the interests of the aboriginal peoples are linked. Quebec uniquely, because of its own history, because in many ways it has had a comparable experience to the Crees, has been able to understand this and to act.

The Crees are not the enemy. Aboriginal peoples are not the enemy. But I assure you with all sincerity, we are accustomed to being viewed as the enemy. That is our designated place in the Canadian milieu.

It is that relationship with Québec society that we have fundamentally changed for the better. And if what I have just said seems too harsh a judgement regarding our relationship to Canadian society, you have only to ask how this new agreement with Québec came to be called "La Paix des Braves". We are no longer the enemy, at least in Québec.

So the essential element in this agreement is that the benefits flowing to the Crees strengthen Québec society and contribute to its development. It is also important to state the obvious-this agreement contributes as well to the economic prosperity of Canada. And I might add, this was the original intent of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement.

"La Paix des Braves" is a nation-to-nation agreement between the Cree Nation and Quebec. It is entered into for a term of fifty years, and does not involve a surrender of Cree rights or the derogation of any rights under the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement. In it the Government of Québec agrees to have the Crees deliver and administer Québec's programmes for community and economic development contained mainly in chapter 28 of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, and provides the resources to fund this activity.

In order to generate these resources, one of the principle recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) is applied-that aboriginal peoples be able to benefit from the natural resources of their ancestral lands. Under the agreement, the Crees are to receive a share in the value of the revenue derived from all mining, forestry, and hydro-electric generation undertaken anywhere on our traditional territory, Eeyou Istchee.

This is the essence of the new agreement. Under international human rights law, peoples have the right to benefit from the resources of their own lands. Although Canada is bound, by international covenants it has signed and ratified, to respect this right, it has steadfastly refused to do so. Thus Canada's aboriginal land claims policy continues to adhere to the colonial model whereby aboriginal peoples are forced to surrender their rights to their own resources, and are then allowed meager compensation in the forced and desperately unequal exchange that results.

Our nation-to-nation agreement with Québec respects the human rights model. The Crees benefit directly from the revenue that is produced over the full extent of our ancestral lands. This revenue is adjusted for changes in price or production. If additional hydro-electric stations go on line, for example, or if new mines are put into production, then the Crees benefit from the additional resources derived from our lands.

Our resource base is not calculated on the basis of some arbitrary quantum of land that is the subject of negotiation, or on the basis of a small reserve that is all that is recognized by the government as remaining from our traditional territory. The entire land base of the Crees becomes its source of revenue, just as the entire land base has always been the source of our traditional economy.

The Crees may use this revenue, which commences with a base amount of $70 million per year, as we may determine. Of course we are obligated to our own people to carry out the community and economic development responsibilities that Québec has under the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, but how this is accomplished is to be decided by the Cree Nation.

This is an enormous departure from other agreements between governments and aboriginal peoples in Canada. It removes two aspects of enforced dependency. It respects the right of an aboriginal people to decide upon its own priorities for community and economic development, and to administer these programmes without government interference. It thus removes government as the "Indian agent". And it provides a revenue stream that is not subject to the whim of government policy and approval. It thus avoids the primary aspect of aboriginal dependency, the question of so-called government "hand-outs"-the inadequate, "barely-enough-to-get-by" payments that hold the aboriginal peoples at the mercy of government bureaucrats and subjects them to the political climate of the day.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has censured Canada for its failure to implement the RCAP Report. In particular the United Nations has strongly urged Canada to assure that Canadian aboriginal peoples benefit from the resources of their own lands.

I have been working in this field for over thirty years. I have seen government programmes and policies come and go. I have seen governments change and heard all kinds of proposals and government promises-from the elimination of Indian Affairs to the forced integration of aboriginal peoples. We were not affected by Friday's announcement of Mr. Nault's new legislation because the Crees had already included self-government as a treaty right in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement. It is a good thing we did.

Every kind of expert has examined the issue of aboriginal peoples in Canada, and no one more exhaustively than the RCAP. The answer is obvious-aboriginal peoples must be able to benefit from the natural resources of their own lands. Extinguishment of aboriginal land and resource rights has no place in a modern and just society like Canada. You don't take away a people's resources-their means of subsistence. The United Nations has told Canada that it must end the practice of extinguishment of aboriginal rights. There is no longer any need to search for an answer. If government takes away your resources, then it can't complain about the dependency that it has placed you in. It is that simple. It has nothing to do with accountability; it has to do with poverty.

Mr. Landry has recognized that the Crees are a nation in Québec. When we prosper, Québec prospers. But without a vested interest in the proceeds of resource development, what motivation is there for the Crees to condone, much less promote such development in Eeyou Istchee? And unless we can control and plan the development which will take place in our territory, how can we assure ourselves that that development will be compatible with our other uses of the land and our long-term needs as a society and as a nation?

This is the innovative thinking that has been going on in Québec. It is not a question of assimilation or forced integration. Rather it is tied to the issue of sharing of resources. The colonial view of the North as a place to exploit without reference to the interests of the original occupants is defunct. It is idea that "natives" are "in the way" of development has been made true because of government policy. The choice is to include aboriginal peoples in the economy or to forcibly exclude them from the economy, push them out of the way and make them dependent. There is nothing complicated about this.

Our agreement with Québec includes a forestry regime which takes into consideration the interests of the Cree users of the forest. Provision is made for the protection of sacred sites, medicinal plants, and the uses of the individual Cree hunters and trappers, and clear-cutting is brought to an end . Forestry will still take place, but the long-term health of the forests, and, as a result, of the forest industry will be enhanced by the agreement with the Crees.

Other parts of the agreement call for recognition of the local population for employment initiatives and training, and special provisions to encourage the creation of Cree business ventures. All of this is tied to viable economic development projects in the resource sector, a dependable stable revenue stream, and the increased economic activity that this will generate in the entire region.

We have given our approval for the construction of a new hydro-electric project. A large proportion of the contracts associated with this new project are reserved for Cree companies. I recently co-chaired an economic conference in Val d'Or, Québec, the first of its kind, where the Crees met with potential regional partners and business interests from throughout Québec to examine the economic and business implications of "La Paix des Braves". The agreement has a major economic impact in the region, and has been met with a positive response from businesses in the region who understand the importance of the Crees for economic activity now and in the future.

We must also consider the investment opportunities created by the revenue stream that this agreement produces. The Crees are already major investors as a result of funds managed by various Cree entities and revenue produced by existing Cree economic development ventures. However, the opportunities increase dramatically because of our agreement with Québec. We would expect to augment our sources of revenue and further diversify our interests affecting economic activity in the region, in Québec, and throughout Canada.

This is all made possible through the sharing of resource revenues and the inclusion of aboriginal peoples in the economy of this country. That such an obvious and pragmatic solution to the long-standing problem of aboriginal social and economic disadvantage should be considered innovative (and it is innovative) tells us that little serious effort has gone into seeking real solutions. The RCAP Report is starting to gather dust on the shelf. Legislation is now being proposed which doesn't even begin to address this problem. Meanwhile, a solution that would allow the aboriginal peoples to share the wealth of this country and contribute to the overall economic output of Canada is now there for all to see.

What is missing here is Canada. Canada's failure to address its economic development obligations in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement has held back the economic development of Northern Québec. There is absolutely no doubt about this.

Those who are politically and economically na?ve argue that the federal government has no jurisdiction in the area of natural resources, and is not the party that benefits from agreements such as "La Paix des Braves". Canada takes about $225 million in GST revenue out of Québec every year from the existing hydro-electric production in the Cree territory alone. This does not include the additional revenue that Canada is able to take from mining, forestry, income taxes, and other sources of federal revenue.

Canada is obligated to contribute to economic development as a result of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement at least to the same extent as Québec. To say that Canada does not benefit is nonsense. But imagine, if you will, what enormous opportunities would open up if Canada were to become a full participant in the economic development initiative that we have now started. There is momentum and enormous potential for increased economic activity and output. Canada has a big role to play, but it has to become less defensive about First Nations and much more pro-active about economic development.