I want to start by saying what the Government means when it says that it would help us. When we signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975 we expected Canada to implement what It had agreed-to. It did not do so. In any case, the Crees had a long time ago, when they negotiated the Agreement, decided to take over responsibility for their own lives. This did not mean that we were going to let government be free of its obligations, it meant that we wanted those obligations to us to be properly implemented. The Grand Council for years worked with the government appointed negotiators, in total seven of them, and we refused most of their proposals.
The government of Canada had made commitments to us on a variety of subjects, covering a number of aspects of governance and we took our case for implementation to the Standing Committees of Parliament and to the members of the Parliament themselves, but we never got satisfactory results. In the end we decided to take our claims on the implementation of the James Bay Agreement to the courts.
The fact is that we want the Agreement implemented in a way that makes us responsible for our own lives. The Agreement that is before us today covers all of our claims and the claims of the people of Washaw Sibi are included in this as well. I understand those who say that this proposed Agreement is not a treaty. I understand that they want the Agreement to be the strongest type of Agreement possible. However, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement is a treaty, you have heard to representative of the Government of Canada state exactly that this evening. This Agreement is not a treaty it is an Agreement to implement our treaty and because it is an Agreement and not a treaty, nobody can claim that this agreement reduces our rights in the 1975 treaty. This new Agreement resolves our claims form the past. We are not told to give anything. There is no hydroelectric dam or diversion in this new Agreement with Canada.
Some say that this Agreement is a lot of money and in a sense it is a lot of money because most of it is paid up front in one cash payment. However this money must provide certain services for us for a twenty year period. I believe that the amount of money is not too much, but it depends on the abilities of our present and future leaders and our managers to invest and use this money widely. I have confidence that our future leaders will be as able as the Cree leaders of today to defend our rights and interests and in providing for the needs of our people. IN twenty years time this agreement will be up for renewal and I know that the Cree leadership at that time will be able to do at least as well as our leaders today.
There are some people who want to have a Cree constitution in this present Agreement. What we have in this Agreement are more powers recognized to the Grand Council now as a result of the Agreement and a process for us to decide with Canada a Cree Constitution and with Quebec and Canada, on a new form of regional government.
We must realize that in the future not all Crees will live from the bush. Everyone knows this and there are many in our communities right now who spend little or no time in the bush. Theses peoples will however also need to be able to find employment. It is up to us to ensure that these people are able to find and access jobs and economic opportunities in the territory in the future. But we should also remember that the hunting way of life is not what it was. Today the hunter needs snowshoes, snowscoops and tents, as in the past but he also needs a truck, snowmobile, chainsaw, outboard motor and other things that are more and more part of this way of life. The hunters too need access to employment so that they can supplement their incomes to be able to afford these things.
I thank Matthew Mukash, Bill Namagoose, Billy Diamond and Ted Moses and all of the Cree leadership who have guided Cree government in the past and who are today leading its continued development and operation.
When Canada and Quebec came to our lands and declared that they were in charge, they took some of the Cree power to run our way of life and to control our lands. By signing the James Bay Agreement and this new agreement and other agreements we take this power back, so that we care for our own affairs. In the future we will not be able to blame others for our problems because the means to resolve them will now be within our grasp and under our control. When you blame someone else for your problems you are making an admission that they had power over you and open the door to the possibility that they potentially still have these powers over you.
I believe in our ability to run our own affairs. I believe in our ability to use our knowledge, customs, skills and our culture and language to build a future for our people and our communities and Nation.
There is a certain point in the consideration of an Agreement or in the decisions made on other matters where we have to decide whether we have confidence in the decision or agreement that is proposed to us. In the case of this Agreement we see that the leadership is unanimous in its approval and that all past and present Grand Chiefs support it. In the face of such support and after being informed about the proposal there is a time when we have to have confidence in our leaders. We have to believe and I believe that they have negotiated an agreement that will be good for us and for our children.
In making this decision to accept or not to accept this Agreement we will not decide as 10 separate towns but rather we will decide together as one people, as the Cree Nation. I remember something that my late grandfather once said to me. He said: â€œTake one branch in your hand and you can easily break it. Take many branches in your hand and you will not be able to do soâ€. This is the way we are, together as the Cree Nation we are strong.
We must stand together in our acceptance of this agreement that is my wish for our Nation. I encourage you to vote in favour of this new agreement with Canada. Stand up with all of us and for all of us!
Meegwetch, Matthew CoonCome