The Grand Council of the Crees

Presentation of the Grand Council of the Crees: To the Aboriginal Peoples Standing Committee of the Senate

Bill Namagoose Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)

Posted: 2008-02-26

Bill Namagoose Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)

Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today. I will be brief in my comments as I believe that you may have questions that you would like to put to us.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed in 1975 as an out-of-court settlement following our successful contestation of the construction of the La Grande Hydroelectric Complex in the Quebec Superior Court. While the decision on our injunction was later over-turned by the Court of Appeals, the recognition of our rights raised questions that led to our negotiations with Quebec and Canada. It also contributed to the rationale for round of modern treaty making in Canada.

In 1975 the Crees, Inuit of Northern Quebec, Canada and Quebec signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. In 1982 the Cree and Inuit rights in the Agreement were protected by the Constitution of Canada.

Among other things, the Agreement contains sections in regard to Inuit and Cree rights on: The Legal Exchange; Eligibility; Lands; The Hydro Dams; Local Government; Regional Government; Health and Social Services; Education; Police and Justice Services; Environmental Protection and Future Development; Hunting, Fishing and Trapping; Compensation and Taxation; Economic and Social Development; and also an Income Security Program for Cree Hunters and Trappers.

In 1986 the federal Government removed the possibility of including health and social services, education, justice and police services and other programs respecting training and community development programs in land claim agreements.

The Crees were criticized in 1975 by many Aboriginal groups in Canada for having signed an agreement with Canada and with Quebec, thus in some manner they thought, weakening the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Imperial Crown.

We were however trying to get into Canada on terms that were the best for our people. We had seen the health services that Canada had provided to our people through the Moose Factory Hospital and through the nursing stations that we had in the communities and we compared that with the offer of modern health and social services that Quebec offered and we have not looked back since then. The same happened in education. Our federal schools were in poor shape and run by people who for the most part, but not all of course, had little commitment or knowledge of the communities.

The provinces were involved and had high standards for health, social services and education whereas the federal government undertook a minimalist approach seemingly in the hope that the "Aboriginal Problem" would go away.

As it turned out, we experienced an immediate improvement in services from what they had been. However, even with Quebec it still took a number of years to get significant application of Provincial standards. With Canada it was worse. Five years after the Agreement was signed the Federal officials were pretending that the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement would cost a couple of million dollars more to implement. By 1980 our communities were suffering from a Walkerton type epidemic. People were dying as a result.

We lobbied Ottawa and the 1982 Federal Report on the Implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was the result. This effort resulted in sewer and water systems, airports for remote communities, renovation of the former federal now Cree Health Board nursing stations and in 1984 resulted in the passage of the promised Cree/Naskapi Act and a resultant tripling of operations and maintenance funding. But still we lacked housing, the federal government had not invested in police and justice services, much needed and promised training money was not supplied, economic development initiatives were unfunded or underfunded, etc.

When our people heard of the new demand from Quebec in 1989 for more dams, they balked, as their part of the 1975 Agreement had not been delivered. As a result, our people were not ready for more dams. We fought an international campaign for 6 years that resulted in the end of the proposed Great Whale and NBR Projects. The diversion of 7 major rivers was averted and 12,000 sq. km. of habitat was saved.

After 1994 Quebec and the Crees started discussions to renew our relationship. Why did we do this? It was because neither of us was going anywhere, so we had to find a way to live in peace. After 6 years of discussion, our people would not accept another hydro-project as Hydro Quebec and Quebec proposed, even if the flooding was only a few hundred sq. km. The problem was that the proposed involvement in this economic development project still did not complete Quebec's obligations to the Crees in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Treaty.

After more discussion, in 2002, an Agreement, known as the Paix des braves, was proposed to the people. In it Quebec committed to fulfill its JBNQA obligations for 50 years in return for the Crees accepting the Eastmain 1 and Eastmain 1A projects. In spite of some vociferous opposition in the Cree camp, after a referendum in which a majority of the electorate participated the result of the secret ballot was a 70% approval. The Agreement gave the Crees an indexed $70 million per year, with which the Crees would decide their priorities for the implementation of the outstanding obligations of Quebec to the Crees.

Throughout the period from 1986 to 2002 we negotiated with 6 different federal negotiators for the federal implementation of the Agreement, without result. The 2002 Paix des Braves Agreement with Quebec did however set a clear and public standard for the implementation of the often joint obligations of Canada with Quebec, to the Crees. Once again, with a new federal negotiator we undertook discussions. The result was that the basic model of the Paix des braves in terms of the federal obligations would be used. For a comparable annual amount of money, but over a period of 20 years this time, once again the Crees would decide the priorities for implementation. There are two great differences in the federal Agreement:

  1. The Cree allocation of funding over the period of twenty years on the Federal obligations will condition the allocation of funding for the renewal of the agreement.
  2. The Agreement contains a significant initiative that recognizes Cree Nation Government and the designation of certain federal responsibilities to it followed by a set of negotiations involving the Crees, Canada and Quebec that will further develop Cree Regional Government.
The funding from the Canada-Cree New Relationship Agreement will involve a cash payment of $1,050,000,000 another $100,000,000 when Royal Assent is given to changes, already agreed-to with the government, to the Cree/Naskapi (Of Quebec) Act and a third payment of $200,000,000 to be made when Royal Assent is given in to Cree Governance Legislation, to come in probably 3 to 5 years. A further $50,000,000 is provided in April 2008 to settle issues surrounding three community issues.

For all of this the court cases against Canada are withdrawn and together we set out on a new footing for the future.

In 1975 we were 6,500 people. Today we number over 17,000. In 1975 the territory was undeveloped. Today it provides over half of the electricity produced in Quebec. Moreover, the territory has nickel, gold and diamond resources under development. We are readying ourselves to seize the moment: employment for our people in resource development and in the institutions for services to and governance of the territory. Over 90% of our people speak the Cree language, 95 percent of our people still live in the Cree communities, we have the lowest rate of suicide among aboriginal communities in Canada (about the same rate for Quebec) and our employment rate, while variable seems to be about 80% most of the time.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to speak to you today.