The Grand Council of the Crees

On the Occasion of the Signing of the Canada-Cree New Relationship Agreement

Posted: 2008-02-27

Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff, Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, the Hon. Chuck Strahl, and Raymond Chretien

Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff, Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, the
Hon. Chuck Strahl, and Raymond Chretien

Kwe-Kwe - Welcome - Bienvenue to the signing of the Canada-Cree New Relationship Agreement! This is an historic occasion because the signing of this agreement completes of the vision of our elders contained in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It is also an historic Agreement because it provides for our youth by recognizing Cree Nation Government and by setting out a path for its future.

We gather here in Mistissini to celebrate the progress represented by this Agreement and to thank the Government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, represented by Minister Chuck Stahl, for having the foresight to listen to our concerns and the courage to act on their commitments. After 33 years, because of the Harper Government, Canada can finally say to the Cree People that it has been true to its word. Minister Stahl deserves our warm thanks for the efforts that he has made both within his Ministry and with his Cabinet colleagues to bring this Agreement to us today.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was the first modern Treaty to be signed with Aboriginal Peoples in Canada after the last of the numbered treaties was signed in the 1920's. Our treaty was also an out-of-court settlement that promised means for the development of the Cree communities by the Cree People themselves and it set out that we would become major players in the economic and social development to occur in Eeyou Istchee, the James Bay Territory. The Agreement was new in 1975 and unfortunately governments did not yet have the machinery necessary to deliver on many of their commitments. Our Grand Chiefs, Billy Diamond, Ted Moses and Matthew Coon Come and their councils, each in their own ways fought using the means provided within the laws of Canada and within international law, to gain the implementation of our treaty.

Among other things our treaty promised regional Cree policing, justice services, properly equipped modern communities, and training for employment in development. Moreover, the James Bay Agreement set out the means for the Crees to take their place in the governance of the whole of our traditional territory. There are no Indian reserves in the Agreement. We do not have reserves. We have modern corporate federal and provincial municipalities that are united under the Cree Nation. Just as the needs of our people grow and change as our way of life evolves, so we must develop new and more effective means to take our place as citizens of Quebec and Canada and also as citizens of the Cree Nation, recognized by the Government of Quebec and now recognized in this Agreement by the Government of Canada.

Grand Chief Matthew Mukash and the Hon. Chuck Strahl

From left to right: Executive Director Bill Namagoose, Grand Chief Matthew Mukash,
the Honorable Chuck Strahl, Raymond Chretien

The second phase of this new agreement sets out a new vision for the future of Cree governance. In order to move forward we are committed to work within the Cree Nation with our own people and with the Governments of Canada and of Quebec to define a path forward that will benefit all parties.

In the bush, the hunters take turns to break-trail through deep snow. This is what we expect to do with Canada and Quebec. We must each take our turn to show the way forward towards the development of a new form of Cree Nation Government. Our people have needs and expectations, just as Quebec and Canada have their responsibilities, but these are not necessarily contradictory. I am sure that we will succeed if we proceed forward in the same spirit that has brought us to the signature of this Agreement today.

This Agreement, and indeed the James Bay Agreement have importance for First Nation Peoples all across Canada. The James Bay Agreement set out a new form of cooperative federalism that included the Crees and Northern Quebec Inuit communities. The problem for Aboriginal Peoples in Canada is this: "How can they, how can we, become more involved in the governance, economic and social development and cultural life of Canada?" In everyday terms, how can we make a meaningful and prosperous way of life for ourselves here in Canada?

In the James Bay Agreement we established Cree health and school boards run by the us but set up under provincial legislation. We accepted that we would have both federal and provincial municipalities. We agreed to cooperate with the province in policing and justice issues. We gained involvement in regional planning and environmental management. In other words, we dealt primarily with the province in areas where the province had certain jurisdictions and was providing services to the rest of its citizens. In this way we gained higher standards of service and became more involved in the future of our lands.

With this present Agreement we will implement for 20 years parts of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that the federal government had difficulties in implementing in the past. In other words, we will decide on a new and innovative way forward. In doing so, the Cree Nation takes on certain responsibilities of the government of Canada to our own citizens. We gain the chance to decide our own priorities in these matters and we have the chance to develop and to demonstrate our ability to govern efficiently.

With this Agreement we also put the past behind us. Past claims against Canada are resolved as they are resolved among us by this Agreement. The bulk of the funding set out in this Agreement will be used for community programs and for increasing the capacities of the Cree Nation Government. We have set up a Cree Nation Trust that will ensure that year by year over the 20 years the provided funding will go to the obligations assumed from Canada in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. We will also set up programs by which we will ensure that there is an equitable access to services by all Cree communities no matter how remote they might be. This agreement puts an end to the culture of claims for past injustice.

I thank Chief John Longchap and his council for the hospitality that they and their community extended to us. I also thank the federal and Cree negotiating teams for their hard work in coming to this agreement. The Grand Council looks forward to working with Minister Chuck Stahl and his team in the implementation of this new Agreement and with the government of Quebec which has given its support for this initiative.

Thank you, Merci, Meegwetch!