The Grand Council of the Crees

Excerpt: Official Reports of the National Assembly

Posted: 2010-12-19


Official Reports of the National Assembly
Final version
39th Parliament, 1st Session
(Beginning: January 13, 2009)
Friday December 3, 2010 - Vol. 41 Nº 164

Commemorating the 35th Anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

Mr. Charest: Thank you, Madam Chair. I present the following motion. I therefore seek your consent, the consent of the Assembly to submit, jointly with the Official Opposition Leader, the Leader of the Second Opposition Group, the member for Mercier, the member for Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and the member for La Peltrie, the following motion:

"That the National Assembly commemorate the 35th Anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed November 11, 1975;

"That the motion highlight the importance of this Agreement, which established a new foundation for relations with the First Nations in Quebec [and the Inuit] and contributed significantly to the social and economic progress not only of the James Bay/Eeyou Istchee and Nunavik regions, but also of all Quebec society."

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Is there consent to debate this motion?

Mr. Gautrin: There could be consent, Madam Speaker, for us to debate this motion. I think about three minutes of speeches, limited to the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Second Opposition Group and the member for Mercier, which would also involve ...

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): So then ...

Mr. Gautrin: It's ...

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): ... I understand that there is consent for there to be four speakers and for speeches to be limited to a maximum of three minutes each.

A voice ...

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Five? The fifth person is?

Voices: ...

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): So therefore, I recognize that there are five members, according to the government leader. And I yield the floor ...

A voice ...

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Four members for five minutes? Very good. So, correction is made ... When talking off mike, we do not hear. Mr. Premier.

Mr. Jean Charest

Mr. Charest: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Speaker. So you know, I’m the one pressuring the leader to give us a little longer, if necessary, so.

And I wanted, before beginning my speech, to also emphasize ... Madam Speaker, you were kind enough to recognize our distinguished guests. I also want to acknowledge the presence of two former Chiefs of the Cree Nation, Matthew Mukash and Ted Moses, who are with us today, and to tell you how happy we are to have this generation of leaders among the Cree and the Inuit, who are in the stands today.


Mr. Charest: Well, I just lost a minute there.

Voices: Ha, ha, ha!

Mr. Charest: It was on November 11, 1975 that an important milestone in the history of Quebec was achieved. That day, two Nations, the Cree and the Inuit, signed the first modern treaty with the governments of Quebec and Canada.

We are very happy to mark the 35th anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. I am particularly proud to do so in the presence of several signatories of the time who, 35 years later, honour us with their presence. Let me name those we have recognized: Mr. Philip Awashish, Mr. Fred Blackned, Mr. Robert Kanatewat and Mr. Abel Kitchen, who are with us today, and who, 35 years ago, signed this Agreement Mr. Speaker.


Mr. Charest: There is a second ... another person I want to recognize today, who was the signatory of the Government of Quebec 35 years ago, who has had an amazing political career and, it must be said to make the story short, was fresh from his experience with the federal Department of Native Affairs. I’m talking about Mr. John Ciaccia, who signed the Agreement on behalf of the Government of Quebec 35 years ago.

** (11 h 20) **
Mr. Charest: Mr. Speaker ... the Agreement, Madam Speaker, was based on two fundamental principles: first, respect - respect, respect, respect - respect for the rights, the history, the values and the needs of the people living in the North, First Nations and Inuit, and also development, the second principle, developing the potential of a vast and beautiful land for the benefit of the people concerned and of all the people of Quebec.

This Agreement was thus intended to create, quote unquote, a framework allowing Quebec to realize the ideal it has for its northern regions. Agreements have in fact put in place guiding principles to reconcile the pursuit of the interests of all communities that coexist in this territory, and perhaps this is its main legacy. Thus, hydroelectric projects undertaken thanks to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement have changed the course of Quebec's economy and helped ensure its energy self-sufficiency and its position as a world leader in hydroelectricity and renewable energy.

As you know, Madam Speaker, Quebec is considering another major economic project to develop the resources of Northern Quebec in a sustainable and orderly way that is respectful of those who live in Northern Quebec, Mr. Speaker. A project in which the Cree and Inuit Nations are front-line members involved in all stages of development. 35 years after its signature, among the Cree as well as the Inuit, the political and administrative bodies resulting from the Agreement share governance in an interdependent relationship. These organizations, there are many, we know them: the Cree Regional Authority, the Kativik Regional Government, the Cree Board of Compensation, Air Creebec, the Cree Construction and Development Company, the Makivik Corporation, Air Inuit, the Cree School Board, the Kativik School Board, to name but a few. If negotiations leading to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement helped us define the rights of First Nations and the Inuit, Madam Speaker, they also strengthened our mutual commitment to collaborate on development.

I would go further than that: I think this Agreement established a form of dialogue between us, a new dialogue based on respect for one another.

A treaty is a fundamental and lasting document. The late Billy Diamond, who died very recently and of whom we keep a lasting memory, Madam Speaker, said that this treaty had to last. He said, and I quote: “As long as the grass grows and water runs.”

Today, I want to pay tribute to his memory, to honour the men and women who occupy Northern Quebec, who make us proud today, and I want to tell you, 35 years after the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, you and your legacy will inspire us to continue building Northern Quebec. Thank you.

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Thank you, Mr. Premier. So, Mr. Premier took a little over six minutes. In fairness, Madam Leader of the Opposition ...

Ms. Pauline Marois

Ms. Marois: So, thank you, Madam Speaker. We are very pleased to join with our colleagues from other political parties, and with the Premier to commemorate a major event in Quebec history: the James Bay Agreement between Robert Bourassa and Billy Diamond, Billy Diamond, who unfortunately died a few months ago.

This is a major event because it was a first, not only in the history of Quebec, but of Canada. It is based on the conviction that the development of Northern Quebec can only happen through a partnership where all parties concerned stand to benefit, and then we can obviously harness its great potential in terms of economic development but also in terms of social development, for the benefit of the Nation of Quebec, the Cree Nation and the Inuit Nation, of course.

It is the first, though. This Agreement is the first of three crucial steps toward building regular relationships and... I beg your pardon, fruitful and harmonious relations between each of our Nations. The second step is the recognition by René Lévesque of Aboriginal and Inuit Nations. It is not surprising that it took a sovereignist to understand the desire of these Nations and their members to be recognized for what they are, with their differences, their will to decide for themselves, their desire to persist. Without recognition, without this shared desire to discuss as equal partners rather than as adversaries, nothing is possible, Madam Speaker.

The culmination of this logic occurred in 2001 with the Paix des Braves Agreement, which was ratified the following year. This agreement with the Cree Nation, followed by a similar agreement with the Inuit, is what allows us to dream of new projects, to develop new resources in Northern Quebec, but in a way that benefits each party. Moreover, it is without a doubt one of the most important legacies of Premier Bernard Landry, widely recognized as such. Finally a positive news item, picked up around the world, about Quebec’s relationship with First Nations. We must remember that at the time the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Mr. Ted Moses, spoke of Mr. Landry as a brother and a friend. Everyone hailed the great statesman that he had negotiated with.

I similarly want to acknowledge Mr. Moses, who is with us today, and Mr. Mukash.

As André Pratte wrote in La Presse on January 12, 2007: "Yet, it is because Bernard Landry invested all his political will, together with the then Grand Chief, Ted Moses, that the agreement called the "Paix des Braves" was reached in 2002. Without the Paix des Braves Agreement there would be no diversion of the Rupert."

We must therefore let ... I beg your pardon, give everyone their rightful place in history. This is important, Madam Speaker. And, when I visited the North several weeks ago, once again I noticed how important are our relationships with our partners. In particular, I met the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Mr. Matthew Coon Come, and the president of Makivik Corporation, Mr. Pita Aatami. I acknowledge them, too.

Robert Bourassa and Billy Diamond were pioneers, were pioneers. And, as we celebrate the anniversary of ... the 30th anniversary of this treaty, I think we recognize the remarkable initiative that they took, which has resulted in much better relations with Aboriginal peoples and the Inuit people.

My conclusion is that there is no development possible in Northern Quebec unless the Cree and Inuit Nations are involved and stand to benefit from it. We hope that the government will always keep this in mind. There is no better time to do so than during the commemoration of the James Bay Agreement. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Thank you, Madam Leader of the Official Opposition. I will now give the floor to the Leader of the Second Opposition Group.

Mr. Gérard Deltell

Mr. Deltell: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, it is always moving to honour events and people who participated in significant events in the history of our province, and 35 years ago, one of the most beautiful pages in the history of our economic development was written, that’s true, but first and foremost, in the positive development of the relations that we must have together, as Quebecers.

Madam Speaker, where would Quebec be without the James Bay project? That project is probably our greatest collective achievement, and this would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of First Nations ... the Cree Nation and the Inuit Nation. But, Madam Speaker, admittedly, it did not happen easily. When Premier Robert Bourassa first announced the James Bay project in 1971, First Nations had not been informed of the situation. They learned about it by from TV, which obviously shocked many people, rightly so. And among those who were shocked, was what was called at the time, the Indians of Quebec Association, whose president was the Great Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation, Max Gros-Louis. He was the first to stamp his feet and God knows that when he stamps his feet, everyone hears it. Max Gros-Louis was therefore the first to sound the alarm about the situation, which led to three to four years of negotiations between the Government of Quebec and First Nations.

And it is precisely through this exchange, this dialogue, this legitimate struggle waged by First Nations that we were able to sign the James Bay Agreement, which we celebrate today.

** (11 h 30) **

The Premier and the Leader of the Opposition mentioned all these people who participated in these negotiations. I would also like us to remember Gérard D. Lévesque, one of our greatest parliamentarians who played a central role in these negotiations.

Madam Speaker, I went to Radisson this past summer. I hope that all Quebecers can find an element of national pride in that visit. And I flew with Air Creebec, thinking that I was encouraging and pursuing the effort made by all during the creation of the James Bay project. Of course, Madam Speaker, I was impressed by the quality of the installations, but I also want to repeat that I was disappointed to find 10 video poker machines for 335 people, and I wish once again that something was done to correct this situation.

Madam Speaker, Québec must further develop its natural resources to create wealth and to stop relying on equalization. The James Bay project actually allows Quebec to have financial independence and attain energy independence, and that's why we need to move forward in developing our natural resources and follow the path created by Robert Bourassa. But to do so requires the successful completion of large projects... based on three elements, namely, profitability, environmental protection, but first and foremost, the support of local communities. And you paved the way for that 35 years ago. Thank you.

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): So, I thank the Leader of the Second Opposition Group. I would appreciate your cooperation, there is background noise, I need to hear people who have the right to speak. The member for Mercier.

Mr. Amir Khadir

Mr. Khadir: Madam Speaker, it is an honour for Québec Solidaire to be associated with this motion to recognize, in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, therefore, more than 35 years ago, in which representatives of the Cree and Inuit of Northern Quebec were successful in having a number of land claims recognized... to be associated with this motion because it is a great moment in the history of relations between the people of Quebec and First Nations because, for once and in a very remarkable way, we demonstrated that where there is a political will ...

And it's quite admirable that this political came from René Lévesque and his team, a sovereignist or a team of sovereignists, who recognized the necessities of history, recognized the historic rights of First Nations. Now, this Agreement may not have met all the expectations that one can have today, may not have satisfied the Aboriginal peoples, but the Agreement was a step in the right direction, showed that things can be carried out in accordance with and in recognition of a number of rights of Aboriginal peoples.

We at Québec Solidaire, and I want to mention it because it is a hallmark of evolution that must be shown " if such recognition is sincere, our thinking must have changed " so we believe it is time for the people of Quebec ... to recognize that the people of Quebec and the territory called Quebec are on the homeland of Aboriginal people. But Aboriginal people have never renounced their sovereignty, by treaty or otherwise. Accordingly, they continue to assert themselves as sovereign peoples. Many of them accept and occupy large ... are willing to occupy large territories where very few non-Native people live.

So it is time, and that is the invitation that Québec Solidaire is extending to all political players in Quebec’s political circle, including the private sector, including mining and forestry companies, that all Quebec recognize that Aboriginal peoples, their ... for Aboriginal peoples, sovereignty means that they are free to choose their future, that it is an inherent right. We must therefore recognize this reality and avoid having double standards where we recognize for ourselves, who immigrated here over the past 400 years, a number of rights without recognizing these same rights for Aboriginal peoples.

Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination can be exercised in various ways, which should be taken into account in all our laws, including the laws on resource development, the Mining Act. Aboriginal self-government is one way; independence is another way, although none of the Aboriginal peoples is presently involved in such a project. Egalitarian relationships with Aboriginal peoples nonetheless require the replacement of the a priori concept of Quebec's territorial integrity by a very different concept, that of the need to coexist on the same territory with sovereign peoples having the right to self-determination. This position is new. This is a position that, for the time being, only Québec Solidaire is proposing, but we do hope that a debate will be held on that issue.

This position should result in more harmonious relations because self-determination, that is to say treating one another as equals, with trust and mutual respect. Such recognition will obviously require concrete repercussions in terms of territory and resources, the development of resources, in order to right the injustices that still exist toward Aboriginal people and to ensure the full potential of their social, cultural and economic development.

Madam Leader - I am not yet finished, be assured. I will use up the six minutes allotted to me for this. I mention this because too often we recognize, together we commemorate historical facts, we celebrate the past, but we do not act in a consistent manner, we do not “walk the talk.”

But today, I would like to invite the Government to consider, in recognition of the importance of the historic agreement of James Bay, the James Bay Agreement, that if there is a lesson to be learned, if indeed we commemorate this date, the first thing to do is agree to recognize the validity of the proposal of the Official Opposition and the bill that I introduced to remove from the Mining Act the provision that currently allows any mining company or any gas or petroleum company to continue to treat all Quebec people, including Aboriginal peoples, as colonized people, a provision that currently allows mining and oil companies to do whatever they want on the territory as long as they have operating rights, without first obtaining permission from the territory’s inhabitants, or Aboriginal people, or farm owners, or mayors of municipalities to control their own territory.

A voice ...

Mr. Khadir: Exactly. So, now that the majority of illustrious representatives of Aboriginal Nations are with us, we should recognize that this provision in the Mining Act is a colonial-era provision that was introduced in the nineteenth century, and that, in the twenty-first century, we cannot think that the right of Aboriginal people is recognized and that they are treated with respect when we allow, by law, mining and oil companies to use our territory as they see fit.

Now, the government is putting forward the Plan Nord to develop Northern Quebec, where there are incredible mineral resources. We must therefore recognize that this law is inappropriate when one recognizes the right of Aboriginal peoples. Thank you.


The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): So, I thank the member for Mercier. Shall the motion be carried?

Voices: Agreed.

The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Agreed. So, I ...


The Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Houda-Pepin): Thank you. So, on behalf of the Speaker, I would like to thank the former Chiefs and current leaders for coming here today for this unanimous motion. Thank you very much. Thank you also to our former colleague, Mr. Ciaccia.