The Grand Council of the Crees

Grand Chief Dr. Mathew Coon Come Letter to Editor of La Presse

Response to October 8th, 2011 Articles

Posted: 2011-10-13

October 13, 2011
7 rue Saint-Jacques
Montréal, Québec H2Y 1K9
Re: Articles on Crees in La Presse of October 8, 2011

Dear Sir:

We read with interest the articles by André Dubuc in La Presse on Saturday, October 8, 2011, entitled "10 ans après la paix des Braves: Les Cris empochent 645 millions chaque année" and "Vers la création d'un gouvernement régional" as well as his interview with Romeo Saganash, MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

As the tenth anniversary of the Paix des Braves approaches, the Cree Nation welcomes interest from the media and the public in the political and economic development of our traditional Territory of Eeyou Istchee. There is a story to be told, and it is one that all Québeckers should know. Unfortunately, the articles published on Saturday tell a story that is at times misleading. Taken as a whole, these articles suggest that Québec is "giving away the North" to the Crees and that the Crees are "getting too much". Allow me a few paragraphs to set the record straight.

The Framework Agreement on Governance signed in May 2011 with Québec will not result in a "give away" of the North to the Crees. It should be remembered that, as a result of Québec legislative amendments in 2001, it was the Crees who were excluded from any participation in governance in the Territory, despite the fact that we form the majority of its population. The Framework Agreement is a step toward correcting this wrong. It will make possible, once the Final Agreement is signed, the inclusion of the Crees in a public regional government, shared with the other residents of the Territory, that will exercise various powers under Québec laws. The Crees are holding out the hand of partnership to Québec and to our neighbours. We know that we will continue to share the Territory. It is only right that we should share in its governance.

As for the notion that somehow the Crees are "getting too much", the bare figures are sometimes deceptive. First, for many years, the Cree communities lacked the basic infrastructure taken for granted in the South: decent housing, safe water, sewer, road access, even electricity and telephone services. To catch up, major investments have been required, and much more remains to be done. The lack of housing remains a serious problem that needs urgent attention. Second, operations and capital costs in Eeyou Istchee are roughly twice as high, sometimes more, than in the South. Third, the cost of living for Crees is also much higher than in the South, while many Cree families struggle with poverty.

It is not only a question of what the Crees have received. One must also ask two other questions: "What have the Crees given?" "What has Québec received?"

In the space of one or two generations, the Crees have faced changes so radical that they can scarcely be imagined by persons outside the Territory. Massive hydroelectric developments have changed the face of our land. Our traditional way of life of hunting, fishing and trapping has been significantly impacted. We are confronted daily with the dual challenge of protecting our land and our culture from ever encroaching development while creating the conditions to allow our youth to prosper in the new industrial economy.

The Crees might easily have said, "The challenges are too great", and turned either to despair or passive resistance. That is not our way. We used the political and legal tools at our disposal to win recognition of our rights. We signed Agreements with Québec and Canada to protect our rights. And we expect that these Agreements will be honoured. The needs in housing, education, health and social service are enormous, and the resources must be deployed to address these needs.

As for what Québec has received, a single fact tells the story. Around 45% of all the hydroelectricity produced in Québec is generated in our Territory. In signing the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, we made this hydroelectric development possible. We have also agreed to share our Territory for other forms of development. We support the responsible, sustainable development of our Territory in a spirit of partnership with our neighbours and Québec as a whole. Our land is rich in mineral resources. Scarcely a month goes by without another mining project being announced. All this development in our Territory creates wealth for all Québeckers. None of this would have been possible without our consent. It is only just that the Crees, who are the most directly impacted, should derive some benefit.

So, to the question, are the Crees getting too much, we are confident that a fair analysis will show that the Crees are getting no more than our fair share. We ask only for what we bargained for, but we will accept nothing less.

As I said at the outset, there is a story to tell about Eeyou Istchee. It is a compelling story, one of success against the odds, one that should be shared with all Québeckers. It tells how the Crees have overcome many obstacles to create a society vibrant with opportunities for growth and development. Not just for us, but also for our neighbours in the Territory and all Québeckers. In the end, it is not a story of "us" versus "them". It is a story of "us together". And the story is not over. There are new chapters to write, together. The Final Agreement on Governance will help us to do so.



Dr. Matthew Coon Come Grand Chief, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee