The Grand Council of the Crees

Speech of Grand Chief Matthew Mukash Before The Commission on Institutions

Posted: 2008-02-04

Thank you Ms Chair.

I am accompanied today by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff, Mr. Romeo Saganash, Mr. Calvin Blacksmith and Me Robert Mainville. I also wish to acknowledge the presence of various Cree Chiefs and Cree Police Directors, who are in the audience today.

Ms Chair, Mr Pelletier and dear members of the National Assembly, I thank you for this opportunity to present the views of the Grand Council of the Crees and the Cree Regional Authority on this important Bill, Bill 54 entitled An Act to amend the Police Act and other legislative provisions.

This Bill is the result of several years of work by the Cree Nation over an important aspect of its self-government powers. It is now time to bring it to conclusion.

At the outset, I must specify that this Bill is directly in line with the New Relationship Agreement between Quebec and the Cree, often referred to as the "Paix des Braves". With the signature of the Paix des Braves on February 7, 2002, Quebec and the Cree entered into a nation-to-nation Agreement. This nation-to-nation relationship strengthens the political, economic and social relations between Quebec and the Cree, and builds on our cooperation, reconciliation and mutual respect, while remaining based on the commitments made by the parties under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Importantly, the Paix des Braves is also designed to build a strong and respectful relationship between the Crees and the other Quebec residents, including the residents of our Territory. Indeed, the Crees and the Quebec population have been building upon their relationship for more than thirty (30) years through various Agreements with the Quebec government as wel as with the Federal Government. These Agreements are all founded on principles of cooperation, reconciliation, respect and dignity.

Although the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed in 1975, the history of the Cree Nation begins long before this date. We the James Bay Cree, or Eeyouch, call our land Eeyou Istchee, which means the People's Land. We have occupied Eeyou Istchee since time immemorial. Our Society has always been a culture based on hunting and gathering, which has brought our people to occupy vast tracks of land on a vast Territory, totaling more than 300 000 square kilometers. Although a large population now live in our communities, some Crees still live out on the land today. We live a life close to Mother Nature and are very proud of this heritage and culture. Each of our nine communities have elected Chiefs who are members of our council.

When the hydroelectric development came to the North in the 1970s, we formed the Grand Council of the Crees. The Grand Council signed the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, following a tough but respectful battle with the governments. In the end, all parties felt that they had accomplished something. We had to compromise on a lot of issues by signing this Agreement. In particular, we allowed some hydroelectric development to take place in our Territory, but on the condition that this development be undertaken in a respectful fashion.

We have also gained important benefits from signing the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, such as important provisions recognizing our right to self-government. This is fundamental and a true recognition by the governments that we have always governed ourselves, despite the belief by some that we had abandoned this aspect of our lives over the years. This is not true. Although we do govern ourselves differently than our neighbours, we have not abandoned this fundamental right. On the contrary, we are building upon our Agreements with the governments to ensure that this right is recognized and well protected.

Among the various Chapters of the James Bay Agreement was Chapter 19 regarding Cree policing. It provides for the establishment of Cree Units of the Quebec Police Force, and Local Community Police Forces. Chapter 19 says that we shall have duties in Categories I, II and III lands. In other words, duties inside and outside our communities in order to respond to all the needs of our People.

Unfortunately, it became apparent in the late 1970s and early 1980s that there were problems regarding the implementation of the James Bay Agreement.

In the 1990s, the Cree therefore instituted legal proceedings, called Coon Come I and II, regarding the problematic and lack of implementation of the JBNQA. These proceedings included claims regarding the lack of implementation of Chapter 19 of the JBNQA.

Even though those cases were pending, the Cree signed many Police Agreements with the Quebec and later with both Canada and Quebec to provide regular program funding for local community policing services during the 1980s and the 1990s. These agreements did not have the effect of fully implementing Chapter 19, particularly with respect to Cree Units of the Quebec Police Force which were supposed to have duties in Categories I, II and III lands. However, those Agreements allowed the Local Cree Police Forces to operate.

Under these Funding Agreements there are and always have been provisions regarding the training, upgrading and improvement of the police officers or constables and set out the eligibility requirements for the hiring of police officers for a Cree local police force. These requirements essentially mirror the requirements for all Surete du Quebec police officers as established by the Police Act and associated regulations. Specifically, all new members of the Cree local police force are required to have a College diploma or Attestation in police technology and to successfully complete a regular basic police training program at the ecole nationale de police du Quebec or to meet standards of equivalence established by the ecole.

As a result of implementation problems of the JBNQA, a new concept ofRegional Policing was agreed to in the Paix des Braves. This recognized that, in addition to Cree police jurisdiction on Category I lands, there would be a role and responsibilities for policing services, in collaboration with the Surete du Quebec, on Category II lands and on Category III lands. It is important to understand that this jurisdiction will be exercised once arrangements have been negotiated between the Parties, in consultation with the concerned police forces. By Quebec agreeing to allow for the establishment of a Cree regional police force with certain negotiated jurisdiction outside Category I lands, the Cree agreed to drop their claims regarding Chapter 19 of the JBNQA.

In order to implement these promises, the parties to the Paix des Braves agreed to negotiate a Complementary Agreement to the JBNQA to replace the original Chapter 19. This amendment to the JBNQA would allow the introduction of the concept of a Cree regional police force responsible for policing services in the Cree communities as well as certain responsibilities on Category II and III lands, in accordance with arrangements to be negotiated. The Complementary Agreement was to be concluded by March 2005, however, due to certain delays, it was agreed to in the Fall of 2007 and approved by Decree of the Government.

Through Complementary Agreement no. 19 to the JBNQA, the present Cree Local Community Police Forces will be merged into the regional police force, called the Eeyou-Eenou Police Force. It will be a police force within the meaning of the Police Act and its members will be police officerswithin the meaning of the Police Act. The Complementary Agreement states that the Eeyou-Eenou Police Force will be responsible for police services within Categories IA and IB lands, as well as Categories II and III lands within the perimeter of Category I lands and, as provided for in the Paix des Braves, it will assume responsibilities, in collaboration with the Surete du Quebec, on Category II lands and on Category III lands under arrangements not yet agreed upon by the Cree Regional Authority and Quebec, in consultation with the concerned police forces.

As well, in the Complementary Agreement, Quebec and the Crees agreed that the hiring requirements for the police officers of the Eeyou-Eenou Police Force shall be determined through agreement between the Cree Regional Authority and Quebec, as was done in the past through Police Agreements.

I emphasize again that, as was the case for local police forces, all new Cree police officers in the regional police force must be recognized as police officers under the Police Act, similar to any other police officer in Quebec. As well, a substantial amount of Cree police officers are fully competent in both French and English (as well as Cree). The Agreements related to policing services between the CRA, Quebec and Canada require officers to speak two of either Cree, French or English. Despite this requirement of bilingualism, many of the officers are, in fact, trilingual. In addition, when Cree police officers are required to respond to situations involving persons with no knowledge of the Cree language, it is ensured that the responding officers are competent in French or English or both to ensure that any communication with non-Cree in the execution of their duties can be done in their preferred language. This is a commonly done in cities where Police Officers have to deal with members of a community who do not speak the language of the majority.

Last December, the Grand Council adopted a Cree Policing By-Law in which it established a Eeyou-Eenou Police Commission. The role of the commission it to oversee the quality of police services and to provide necessary guidance to the force. We are confident that the Police Commission, along with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the Police Ethics Committee under the Police Act will be more than able to ensure that the highest quality police services are provided and will be able to deal with any legitimate questions regarding the competency of any officer or the force.

Unfortunately, we were informed before Christmas of some opposition to this Bill, which delayed its adoption. Some of that opposition was unfortunately based on inaccurate information.

Let's re-establish the facts. The Cree police officers are very able to address incidents within their areas of jurisdiction. The Cree police officers are highly competent and able to provide more than adequate services to our community members in various areas of the James Bay Territory, including, but not limited to, our communities.

Yes, the Cree Regional Police will eventually have a role to play outside of the Cree communities and within our Territory which we call Eeyou Istchee. This is not new. For some time now, the Crees and the Surete du Quebec have been cooperating in this respect, with success, but the legalities of this way of operating must be clarified for all involved.

Again, the role of the Cree Regional Police outside of the Cree communities is not yet defined, but will be through appropriate discussions with Quebec and the concerned police forces. In this respect, our discussions with the Surete du Quebec have proven to be verypositive and we are confident that this will continue.

It is essential for us that the tools available to the Cree Police officers allow them to help our trappers who live out on the land, as well as other Crees and non-Cree citizen outside of our communities. We have the capacity to do this, the reorganization proposed by the Bill and the help of other Police Forces, will help us to achieve this.

Before concluding my comments today, I would like to emphasize to you that the aim of Cree policing and the new regional Eeyou-Eenou Police Force is to provide high quality police services on territory of primary interest to the Cree. This territory is largely in Cree communities but extends beyond Category I lands to cover certain forested areas where the Cree live and practice their long standing harvesting practices and culture. There is, in fact, no incompatibility between non-Cree and Cree policing, on the contrary.

The new Eeyou-Eenou Police Force provides opportunities for all parties to provide the best possible level of security and policing services to the entire region and to build on an already long and very positive relationship between us, Quebec and the Surete du Quebec.

In the event Bill 54 is not assented to in its current form, Quebec and the Cree may find themselves back at square one. This is not desirable for either parties or for other stakeholders in the Territory.

Thank you for your time, Meegwetch.