The Grand Council of the Crees

International Relations

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The Grand Council began working on the international level when it realized in 1980 that Canada and Quebec were not going to implement the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in a straight forward manner, attuned to the needs of the communities. At the time, Canada was refusing to live up to obligations in respect to sewer and water systems in the communities and for housing as well as other aspects of community and economic development. Quebec had neatly excused itself from any responsibility for these matters on Category 1 Lands that it said were under Federal Jurisdiction. The Crees decided to take their problems to the Pope and began to look around at the various international fora where there was a possibility that Canada and Quebec could be held to international standards in their treatment of the Crees.

In the 1980's work began which resulted in the Grand Council being accredited as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. They also began working with the newly set up UN Working Group on the Rights of Indigenous Populations. In addition the Grand Council worked with the International Labour Organization in its amendments to the ILO instrument dealing with Indigenous Peoples. While many of the Cree leaders have over the years been involved with the international representations of the Grand Council, it has been primarily the work of Dr. Ted Moses and Mr. Robert Epstein.

One of the early attempts of Canada and other States was to have all references to Aboriginal Peoples in the new Draft Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples changed to Aboriginal "Populations" or Aboriginal "People" (singular). This was an attempt to undermine the collective status of Aboriginal Peoples in International Law and would have, among other things, denied their access to the right of self-determination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was particularly ironic for Canada that recognizes the rights of "aboriginal peoples" in its own constitution to take this position.

Another of the battles from the 1980's was when Canada denied that it had treaties with aboriginal peoples and wanted all references to the treaties in international instruments to be to "domestic arrangements".

These were the type of battles that characterized the last 20 or so years in the international fora and that continue to this day.

The Council has worked over the years with a variety of international bodies: