The Grand Council of the Crees

GCC Submission on Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples

Grand Council submission on discrimination against indigenous peoples

Posted: 1991-07-00

The following is the statement made by Cree Ambassador Ted Moses in July 1991 to the ninth session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UN Commission on Human Rights.


(Review of developments pertaining to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous populations: economic and social relations between indigenous peoples and States)

We wish to briefly review developments which have taken place in Canada and in the Province of Quebec, which have important ramifications for the Crees, for the other indigenous peoples of Canada and Quebec, and which also have wide-ranging and significant implications for indigenous peoples in other parts of the world.We will conduct this review under two main heads:(a) Operation and construction of dams, dykes, and related hydro-electric infrastructure, which violate the treaty between the Grand Council of the Crees and the Government of Canada, the Province of Quebec, et al.; and which violate the civil and political rights of the Crees, and the social, cultural and economic rights of the Crees, and which violate other international agreements and the rights of other indigenous peoples; and,(b) Constitutional developments in Canada, which have led to the passage of a new law by the Province of Quebec, calling for a referendum on the secession of Quebec from Canada, the unilateral declaration of Quebec as a sovereign State, and the declaration by Quebec that it will assume sovereignty over the indigenous peoples living within the present frontiers of the Province of Quebec, thus abrogating the existing constitutional arrangements and treaty relationships between the indigenous peoples and the Government of Canada.As noted in the Report of the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations on Transnational Investments and Operations on the Lands of Indigenous Peoples, (E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/1991/Misc.1) the Province of Quebec (Canada) began construction of a hydro-electric mega-project on Cree lands in the 1970s. This project was undertaken without seeking the advice or consent of the indigenous peoples who were and are the sole occupants and users of the lands affected by the extensive series of dams, dykes, roads, power transmission corridors, and other infrastructure that comprises Project La Grande (1975). It is important to note that this project was initiated and built without benefit of any social or environmental impact assessment procedure whatsoever.The effect of this project on the indigenous peoples was catastrophic. As noted in the above report, the extensive inundation of Cree lands resulted in release of poisonous methyl mercury into the environment, and "by 1984 two-thirds of the Crees already had mercury levels in excess of levels considered safe by the World Health Organization". 3,675 square km of forest and tundra were forever flooded. Since the James Bay Territory is of very low relief, this included the low lying lands that support most of the animal and plant life upon which the Crees depend for their subsistence food supply.Court action in 1975 led to the negotiation of a treaty between the Cree Nation and the government authorities who are in fact the project proponents. This treaty, among other things, guaranteed the protection of the Crees' subsistence food supply from the effects of further development activities, and implemented a rigorous system of environmental controls under joint control of Cree and other governments, that would regulate any future development activity contemplated in the Cree Territory.Notwithstanding this treaty, La Convention de la Baie James et du Nord Quebecois, (which has been confirmed as a treaty under Sec. 35 of the Constitution Act 1982, [Canada]), the Province of Quebec is now proceeding with plans to build a second phase of dams, dykes, and infrastructure on Cree lands in contravention of the treaty. The projects would require several major river diversions, involve two major river systems affecting a territory almost as large as France, and result in the flooding of an additional 4,485 square km of indigenous land.Realizing that the treaty with the Crees is an obstacle to their plans, both the Government of Canada and the Province of Quebec have asked the courts to invalidate the treaty, and declare its provisions, particularly its environmental assessment provisions, non-binding on Canada and Quebec. Three courts have now told Canada and the Province of Quebec that they are attempting to illegally escape from the binding provisions of the treaty with the Crees.The construction of this project affects the Cree peoples' right to life, right to subsistence, right to use and benefit from their own resources, right to the expression and manifestation of their own culture, as well as numerous other rights which also affect other indigenous peoples who depend on the same land and resources, and who are threatened by similar development projects and denial of treaty rights. The proposed hydro-electric projects have been condemned by the world's major environmental organizations.As the UNCTC Report notes, the Provincial government intends to proceed immediately with the new mega-projects without waiting for the results of any social or environmental impact assessments or court proceedings undertaken by the indigenous peoples to enforce their treaty rights.*****In June of the current year the provincial legislature of the Province of Quebec, Canada, which is known as the "Quebec National Assembly", passed into law a new Act (Bill 150) to authorize a referendum on sovereignty. The principal effect of which is as follows:

The Gouvernement du Quebec shall hold a referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec between 8 June and 22 June 1992 or between 12 October and 26 October 1992.

If the results of the referendum are in favour of sovereignty, they constitute a proposal that Quebec acquire the status of a sovereign State one year to the day from the holding of the referendum."

The committee report (known as the "Allaire Report") which proceeded and recommended this legislation, calls for the Province of Quebec to enter into negotiations with the Government of Canada to force certain fundamental changes to the Canadian Constitution (including the right of any province to secede from Canada), notwithstanding which, the Province of Quebec will unilaterally seize control of existing Federal jurisdictions, including aboriginal peoples and lands, and declare itself a sovereign State within one year.The indigenous peoples have lived in the territory constituting the present Province of Quebec since time immemorial. The present Cree territory, Ungava, came within the Quebec Provincial boundaries only in 1912, conditional upon Quebec settling all outstanding aboriginal claims. Quebec has never met this condition.In any case, the Grand Council of the Crees (of Quebec) signed its treaty in 1975 with Canada as a federal State and Quebec as a province of Canada, with all of the implications with regard to jurisdictions and lands which this implies. A fundamental change in the constitutional status of Quebec would void and abrogate our treaty, and with it our land settlement. It would fundamentally and irrevocably affect indigenous rights for the indigenous peoples living within the present boundaries of the province.The Government of Canada has refused, so far, to discuss its obligations to the indigenous peoples under these circumstances, or to state what its response would be. Canada's steadfast refusal to discuss indigenous self-determination, while it openly entertains Quebec's claims to self-determination, reflects a double-standard based on racial prejudice. Quebec claims, and the federal government accepts the notion, that Quebec is a "distinct society". Similar claims by the aboriginal peoples of Canada to be recognized as a distinct society have been rejected by the federal government.The recently failed constitutional initiative that led to Quebec's threat of unilateral secession referred to Canada's two "founding nations", the French and the British, thus both excluding the indigenous peoples and falsifying history. It was this obvious racial bias which prompted the only indigenous member of the Manitoba Provincial Legislature, Elijah Harper, to single-handedly block approval of the constitutional initiative.Canada is concerned lest the proposed Draft Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognize the right of self-determination for indigenous peoples. Canada's stated concern is the territorial integrity of the State, yet Quebec has already passed a law which will grossly affect Canada's territorial integrity.Quebec's claim to self-determination and sovereignty is defective in several ways. To mention just a few: Quebec enjoys full internal self-determination. It has sent several Heads of State and Ministers to administer at the federal level, and it controls the resources within its boundaries and administers the justice system.Indigenous self-determination is based on thousands of years of use and occupancy, the obvious denial of internal self-determination at the present time, and the fact that Canada and its predecessor States have entered into treaty relationships with the indigenous Nations.As the issue of Quebec sovereignty is played out, Canada's refusal to address the serious issues that are raised with regard to the indigenous peoples, will lead inevitably to an impasse with the indigenous peoples.Only last summer, Quebec demanded that the federal armed forces be used against the indigenous peoples of Quebec. Yet Quebec refused to send witnesses to the federal Parliamentary hearings which were later called to determine the cause of the conflict. Now this same province wants independence and jurisdiction over indigenous peoples and their lands.Should Quebec unilaterally declare sovereignty, it is not likely that the indigenous peoples will passively surrender their lands and rights to the new State. A conflict will occur that will, like it or not, involve the most fundamental issues of international law. As the 29 June issue of the international edition of the Economist newspaper observed:

"Ungava, was, and arguably still is, the land of the Crees...If Quebec should one day declare itself independent, it should expect to lose more than half its territory the following day when the Crees likewise declare themselves independent--taking much of the mighty James Bay project with them."