Everyone in Mistissini is aware of the recent events relating to the project for the construction of the northern extension of Highway 167 to the Otish Mountains. This should be a project that unites everyone in Mistissini to work together for the common good.
That is why the Cree Nation of Mistissini, with the support of the Grand Council of the Cree (Eeyou Istchee), has taken the initiative to negotiate, on a nation-to-nation basis, a preferential contract with Québec for certain slashing work to km. 184 as well as the construction of Section B of the highway extension.
Section 3 of the Act respecting the ministère des Transports du Québec provides that the Minister may delegate the construction of a road to a municipality or a native band. The Department is not permitted to sole-source road construction contracts to individuals or companies.
The approach of the Cree Nation of Mistissini throughout this entire file has been to ensure the maximum benefits for the community as a whole, while ensuring that those families most directly affected by the project receive special consideration.
This has always been the Cree way: Together We Stand Firm. Our strength is our unity as a Nation. This is what has enabled us to negotiate beneficial agreements with Canada, Québec, Hydro-Québec and, more recently, mining companies.
Together, as a Nation, we are stronger than we would be as individuals. Cree individuals alone would never have been able to negotiate agreements like the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement or the Paix des Braves. It is only the strength of the Cree Nation that ensures respect for our rights.
No one is suggesting that Cree tallymen do not have certain rights. They also have special responsibilities to supervise harvesting activity on their traplines. It is only right that they receive special consideration when development projects affect harvesting on their traplines.
That is why the Cree Nation of Mistissini has made special provision to ensure that the tallymen whose traplines are affected by the Highway 167 extension benefit from the project. It has made special arrangements to ensure that they have the opportunity to work with Eskan on the slashing and construction contracts with the Department of Transport of Québec. They will have the opportunity to earn significant financial benefits from this work.
The Cree Nation of Mistissini has offered the tallymen and Uuchii to join the consortium that it is putting in place to carry out these works. It has made every effort, and will continue to make every effort, to ensure that the tallymen receive their fair share of the benefits associated with the project.
But we cannot accept that the tallymen’s concerns be used to demand the entire contract for the highway extension. For that is what is being demanded. The lobbyist-consultant is saying that, because the project crosses the tallymen’s traplines, the tallymen, Uuchii and their southern partners are alone entitled to obtain the contract, on a sole-source basis, for the slashing and construction work.
This is a new concept to the Cree. Never before have Cree individuals claimed that they, rather than the community, are entitled to the entire benefit of a project because it happens to be located on their traplines. This is putting individual interests ahead of Cree Nation and community interests. It is an approach that is foreign to the traditional Cree way of doing things. It is an approach that jeopardizes the rights of all the Cree.
The lobbyist-consultant has said in the newspapers that a real war is being prepared. This is not what the Cree Nation of Mistissini wants. We are certain that it is not what the tallymen want. But it seems to be what the lobbyist-consultant wants: to set Cree against Cree, to divide the Cree, to weaken the Cree. And who will benefit? Certainly not the Cree. Perhaps the lobbyist-consultant, perhaps the southern “partners”, but certainly not the Cree.
The Cree Nation of Mistissini remains open to meeting with the tallymen concerned and Uuchii at any time in order to discuss their concerns and find solutions that benefit them and the entire community.