The Grand Council of the Crees

Bill 136 Violation of Cree Rights

Bill 136 constitutes an "open, determined and systematic violation" of Cree rights

Posted: 2000-06-08

Wemindji - The Crees condemn Bill 136. The amendments to the Forest Act contained in Bill 136 constitute yet another "open, determined and systematic violation" of Cree rights including those inscribed in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement. Bill 136 underscores once more the refusal of the government to subject forestry operations in northern Québec to environmental and social evaluations despite the clear terms of the Agreement.By tabling Bill 136, the government persists in its systematic refusal to reform the management of the boreal forests so as to make it compatible with the hunting, fishing and trapping rights of the Crees recognized in the Agreement and protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. On top of this, they show a complete disregard for Cree rights over the natural resources situated in their traditional territory.The Crees denounce in the strongest terms the increased yield which is the principal objective of Bill 136 and, indeed, its very basis. All of the supposedly new forest management planning incorporated into Bill 136 has as its ultimate goal the intensification of forestry operations for the benefit of the forestry companies and of the governments that realize substantial gains from them.The Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Itschee), Mr. Bill Namagoose, notes: "As Minister, Mr. Brassard claims to take the concerns of the different users and Aboriginal communities into account in the preparation of management plans. But the forestry companies are the ones responsible for the preparation of the plans and that is a role that places them in a serious conflict of interest. By acting in this way, the government once again denies its fiduciary obligation towards Aboriginal peoples.""What's more, Bill 136 leaves to the Minister's discretion the choice of whether or not to adopt forest management standards, whether on the request of an Aboriginal community or on his own initiative after consultation with the community. This is purely discretionary power, to be exercised at the Minister's pleasure. However, in the case of the territory covered by the James Bay Agreement, this power is incompatible with the dispositions of the Agreement which obligate the government to make forestry operations compatible with the traditional activities of the Crees." Mr. Namagoose concludes: "No choice has been left to the Minister under the terms of the Agreement."The Crees also condemn the considerable scope of the discretionary powers assumed by the Minister of Natural Resources. Amongst other things, the determination of the northern limit of the management units is left to the total discretion of the Minister, and that determination can also be subsequently modified. In other words, although these powers might seem attractive at first sight, they reflect the will of the government to govern by decree.

In the words of the Grand Chief of the Crees: "The Crees are willing to fight for the respect of their treaty rights and the recognition of their existing aboriginal rights. The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Itschee) will firmly oppose Bill 136."