The Grand Council of the Crees

news: July 16: Val D'or Chamber of Commerce - Dr. Ted Moses


Posted: 2002-04-09


Good afternoon. In July, 2000 I addressed this Chamber under the title "THE CREE ECONOMY AND THE ECONOMY OF ABITIBI: A PARTNERSHIP IN FACT". Today I have the same title, but with the additional words: "CHAPTER TWO". I am going to continue where I left off almost two years ago, because I believe that what I said here then, was heard and understood in a way that we Crees have never been heard and understood before.

People came up to me after that speech and said, "The way you put it, I can now understand how you feel, and why you insist on respect for your rights". Furthermore, I believe that what I said two years ago has had a great impact on what we have recently be able to achieve with the Government of Québec. The people of this region were finally able to appreciate that the Cree Nation is a vital part of the economy of this region. They finally understood that we want to be real partners in economic development, and that we have made very substantial contributions here in the region.

More than that, I think people are now beginning to see that there is a strong affinity between our history in Canada as an aboriginal people, and the experience of Québec Society in Canada. I said two years ago: "Consider-if French Canadians feel somehow wronged by Canada's history, just try to imagine what the aboriginal peoples feel." You understood me, and I appreciate that.

I have always been very forthright about the issues that we confront. The problem is easy to describe. Here is what I said two years ago:

"If minerals are found on our land, if trees grow in our territory, or if rivers flow across our lands; our ownership of these resources is not, as one might assume, the legal presumption. Strangely, here in Canada and Québec the opposite is true, and the aboriginal peoples are expected to move out of the way of development so that others can enjoy the benefits of these resources."

I explained that the Crees have been systematically excluded from participation in the economy. I say "systematically" because it was government policy to exclude us. We were not seen or understood to be serious actors on the economic stage.

I have been explaining this issue for a long long time. I have gone to Ottawa to explain it, to Washington DC., and to the United Nations in Geneva and New York.

How did la Paix des Braves happen? Québec finally heard what we have been saying. They finally understood. And I believe that it was here at the Val d'Or Chamber of Commerce that our message was finally received.

I think the context was right. The Crees have been working in Val d'Or for 27 years. You people have gotten to know us. But I will be frank, we were not entirely welcome here when we arrived. I know that. But I can tell you that we came just as the US military was leaving, and many people told me long after, that the economy of Val d'Or would have been devastated if we had not opened our offices here when we did.

The difference now is that people know we are serious. It took longer for people outside of the region to understand this, because they do not know us as well.

I said a few moments ago that the problem was easy to describe. I think that the solution is also easy to describe. I explained the solution two years ago right here. This is the same conclusion that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) reached, and it was also endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

A people has the right to benefit from the natural resources of their own lands. This is one of the principle elements of the internationally recognized right of self-determination. However, I must correct a misunderstanding about this concept. People usually think that self-determination means independence. As far as the Crees are concerned, the issue is not political independence; it is survival, self-sufficiency, having the means to subsist and prosper without having to leave your own homeland. Surely, here in Québec we understand that.

The Crees have never emphasized the political manifestations of self-determination; but we have insisted that we have a right to share in the wealth the land can provide.

The problem for us right now is that Canada views these rights as problematic, as somehow inimical to its own national interests. This is because Canada's aboriginal policy has remained fundamentally unchanged since colonial times. Canada and the Parliament of Canada have direct responsibility for "Indians and land reserved for Indians". The Supreme Court of Canada has said that the government's relationship with the aboriginal peoples is "trust like", that Canada must behave in the capacity of a "fiduciary". The Supreme Court has also said that Canada's relationship to us is "non-adversarial". I wish that were true!

All you have to do is open the newspaper to see if Canada respects the admonitions of its own Supreme Court or not. All I can tell you is that Canada has been fighting against the Crees for as long as I can remember. Canada opposes us in the courts, at the United Nations, and at every level of our administration. Between Canada and Indians, it is "us" and "them".

I have always said that this need not be the case. I do not think it should be us and them. National Chief Matthew Coon Come does not think it must be us and them. But the simple sad fact of the matter is that Canada sees our win as their loss.

I often wonder where Canada's aboriginal policy comes from. Have the wise men in Ottawa ever sat down and tried to figure out what is good for Canada? I don't think so. All the evidence indicates that Canada is just plain stuck in the past.

The Québec newspapers recently spoke of the initiative that Québec and the Crees took-the challenge to reach an historic agreement with the Crees-la Paix des Braves. Canada does not seem to have the imagination or the "guts" to depart from a colonial policy towards Indians that is over one hundred years old.

That is why it all happened first here in Québec. The experience of Québec Society and the experience of the Crees gives us a common ground. And this is what Premier Landry saw. What did I say here two years ago? I said:

"The Crees put approximately $200 million into this region every year. The work we do, the money we spend, the investments we make, contribute directly to the economy of this region. Where do you think the money goes that we spend? How long do you think it remains in the Cree communities? It is the Cree presence here that has made Val d'Or the "Gateway to the North".

The Crees are certainly not against the people here, or anywhere else in Québec, for that matter. When the Crees benefit, this entire region benefits, and Québec also benefits. We have brought enormous resources to this region. We have done this because we have insisted that our rights be respected. We have insisted that governments keep their word and respect their highest laws."

When I met Premier Landry last year I explained the Cree situation. A young growing population without adequate employment. A housing and social crisis. Poor and inadequate infrastructure. Economic development on our doorstep, yet we shared little benefit.

But I also told him that were are a young vibrant people with great ambitions. I told him that we are not against development, and that we want to participate in the economy. And I told him that we are not enemies of Québec. We protect our rights; that does not make us enemies of Québec. In fact, our vigilance concerning our rights can easily be the basis of a bond between the Crees and Québec, because the Crees and Québec society share a pre-occupation with the issue of rights, and the right to choose.

When I went to the Québec National Assembly I did not hide the facts. I told people that our relationship with Québec and with Canada was not working. I explained that Québec had never built a single house in a Cree community. What kind of a relationship can you have if you do not work together on something? I said that we were at an impasse. This could not be good for the Crees, I said, but it is not good for Canada or Québec either.

I did not know it at the time. I did not know then that we would achieve la Paix des Braves. But your reaction to my speech two years ago put us on the road to success because it demonstrated to me that there is a genuine bond with the people of Val d'Or and the Crees. That is why I called the speech "PARTNERS IN FACT". It was a true and pragmatic statement about what we have done together with the people of Val d'Or and it told me that we can have a stronger link.

Premier Landry understood our problem. He likes to say that his solution is pragmatic. He asked: What is best for Québec? He had the courage to look the problem in the face. What is in Québec's national interest? Are the national interests of the Cree Nation and the national interests of Québec complimentary? Premier Landry in his pragmatic economic and social analysis saw that they are.

It is this understanding of our common interests, our linked futures, that allowed Premier Landry to abandon the old colonial policy that Canada, unfortunately, still embraces. In essence, he saw that what is right and fair also makes good economic and social sense. He realized that the Crees have to be real participants in the economy of the North. By acknowledging that the Crees are beneficiaries of development in our Territory, he created a fact on the ground-that Cree interests, the interests of the region, and the interests of Québec society are complementary.

But he did more than this. He acted in a way that engenders mutual respect. He sought the consent of our people for a new development project, and he abandoned a project which would have flooded eight times as much land as the project we just approved. Premier Landry put away the old "we can do anything we want" approach, and in its place confirmed a true "nation-to-nation" relationship-not just the words, but the actions and the substance to back them up.

So now we can work together with added incentives, with additional resources, and within a framework of cooperation that extends all the way to Québec City. I think we are going to do big things.

As just a start I have accepted the honour of co-chairing with your honourable Mayor Mr. Fernand Trahan, an economic conference, "Gateway to Building Economic Channels", which will be convened in the Val d'Or Congress Centre from the 4th to the 6th of June. The conference is called as a direct consequence of la Paix des Braves. We will examine the economic implications of the agreement with Québec and the Cree presence in the region. Our goal is the creation of strategic alliances, joint ventures and economic and business links between Cree entrepreneurs and businesses in the region.

I have already discussed this initiative with the Honourable Rémy Trudel, Minister of Native Affairs and Regions, when I was in Québec City two weeks ago. He is very excited about the prospects for this conference, and in the whole new direction we are going because of our agreement with Québec.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want you to know what an enormous honour it is for me to be able to stand here today with my friends and colleagues, and acknowledge that what we set out to achieve with Québec when I spoke with you two years ago is now within reach. I described a problem with Canada and Québec; and I proposed a solution. Québec and the Crees have now taken a remarkable initiative and we have set out forthrightly to implement that solution. I have great hopes. Thank you.