Former Grand Chief Ted Moses, Mr. Landry, Cree Chiefs, Mr. Kelley, all the many, many distinguished guests and dear friends of the Cree Nation:
[Introductory remarks in Cree]
It is genuinely heartwarming to be surrounded today by so many friends and supporters who understand the importance of the event which we are commemorating today—the signing ten years ago of an historic agreement between the Cree Nation and the Government of Quebec.
The “Paix des Braves” was historic as much for the model and the benchmark which it established as for its specific content. For what the “Paix des Braves” did was to demonstrate that when people of good will come together with resolve and determination to find a new path—a peaceful path—to address issues which were obstacles to their own development, and to do so in a spirit of respect and friendship, truly great and creative things become possible. The “Paix des Braves” has demonstrated that it is possible to acknowledge unique rights, to respect another’s perspective, to understand differences, to appreciate one another’s visions, and to give expression to all these by finding common ground for everyone’s mutual benefit.
The “Paix des Braves” represents one of those truly turning-points in history because from the day that agreement was signed we, as a Cree Nation, and I daresay Quebec also, entered a new world very different from the world as it was the day prior.
Building upon the original James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the “Paix des Braves” acknowledged that the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee not only had an important and key role to play in the development of our traditional territory, but that we also had an important contribution to make to Quebec as a whole. This was, of course, the original vision of the James Bay Agreement, but it took many years and a very winding path to arrive at an understanding of what it would take to give those ideas fuller expression. The “Paix des Braves” then laid the groundwork for a very wide range of partnerships and joint undertakings between the Cree Nation and business, social, cultural and political interests throughout Quebec.
As with all historical milestones, the “Paix des Braves” has been both a beginning and an end. It represents the beginning of a new relationship, a new way of doing things, and a new framework for the interactions between the Cree Nation and our neighbours throughout Quebec, primarily in the area of economic development, and perhaps most importantly, the beginning of a new way of thinking about one another.
The “Paix des Braves” is also an ending. It marks the end of a certain paradigm, a certain framework which defined the relationship between us in the past. Sometimes, we called that relationship “colonial”, sometimes we called it “paternalism”, and sometimes we called it “cultural genocide”. In an era when we were excluded from development of the resources on our traditional territory and when development took place without our consent; when we were excluded from certain basic and fundamental rights—even the right to vote—and excluded from the management of our own affairs; and sent to residential schools forbidding us to speak our own language, these were not inaccurate characterizations.
That is what we have put an end to, and we have also put an end to that kind of thinking about our relationship. With the “Paix des Braves” we have put an end to the Cree people being victims. The “Paix des Braves” put into our hands many of the essential tools that we required to become major actors in the economic development of our territory. At the point of our signing the “Paix des Braves” we assumed a significant degree of responsibility for our own future, and at that point, we ceased to think of ourselves as victims.
Our task then became to do the diligent and hard work of building the economic foundation for our Cree Nation. That agreement became a major milestone in our vision of nation-building. We knew that we could not build a healthy and sustainable nation if it were built on a foundation of victimhood. On the contrary, we knew that nationhood is only possible if it is founded on the highest and noblest of ideals which would inspire our people to join together in the task of nation-building.
To have achieved this milestone agreement required the vision, the perseverance and the commitment of individuals of the stature and integrity of our former Grand Chief Ted Moses and former Premier Bernard Landry, assisted by many other individuals dedicated to the same objective of establishing a truly new relationship, including the late Daniel Bienvenue, Mr. Jean St-Gelais, Abel Bosum, Robert Mainville, Marie-José Thomas, and so many others. To blaze a trail sometimes requires an act of faith, and in this instance, looking back from the perspective of hindsight, that faith was well-placed.
That faith was well-placed not only because of the positive benefits which have come to our communities from the agreement, but also because of what our new and more positive relationship has led to.
As you all know, we are currently in serious negotiations with the Government of Quebec regarding the governance of the Eeyou Istchee/James Bay territory. These negotiations originated from several convergent sources. On the one hand, there was a realization that the current governance structures were exclusionary—they left the Cree Nation without a meaningful participatory role in the governance of our traditional territory. At the same time, Mr. Charest announced his ambitious plan for the accelerated development of the territory with the Plan Nord. These negotiations have also been made possible because they build upon the spirit of the “Paix des Braves”.
After several discussions with Mr. Charest, he appreciated our view of the very intimate link between economic development and governance. To his great credit, he understood that if a governance regime is not properly structured, then there is a danger of groups or individuals being excluded from participating in, and benefiting from, economic development initiatives. We believe that Mr. Charest has very wisely chosen the path of inclusion rather than continuing on the path of exclusion. The path we are now on together is visionary, ground-breaking, and creates yet another remarkable model of how things can be, if the will is there. Mr. Charest is now taking our new relationship to a new and unprecedented level, based on both the highest ideals and the most basic democratic principles.
We are now again, together, demonstrating to the rest of Canada and the world what it means to be genuinely inclusive of aboriginal peoples into the fabric of the economic, political, social and cultural life of Quebec. We are demonstrating, with the new governance regime that we are fashioning together, that the acknowledgement of aboriginal rights is not in contradiction to development. On the contrary, we believe that to understand and to embrace aboriginal rights is the necessary condition for the rational and sustainable development of the resources within our territory, and that this can be done in a spirit of cooperation and harmony.
In our own way, over the last three and-a-half decades, we have carried out our own “quiet revolution”. With the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the “Paix des Braves”, and with our current governance negotiations we have transformed our traditional reliance on the land and its abundance into a contemporary context where the land will continue to sustain us and we will continue to govern ourselves.
The new changes which are now on the horizon will bring with them new challenges. The new changes will require that we all think differently about each other. We, in the Cree communities, will need to think differently about our neighbouring non-Cree communities; our neighbours will need to think differently about us; and the Government will need to think differently about our very unique region.
We have extended our hand in friendship to our neighbours in the region and we have invited them to work with us to develop a new way of governing ourselves in the North which is based on the very simple, yet also very profound, notion that as northerners we may just have more in common with each other than there are things which divide us, and that it is in our common interest, as neighbours, and co-residents of the region, to work together for our mutual and collective benefit.
When Mr. Charest invited us to present a proposal for governance of the territory which was “outside-the-box”, we learned that sometimes the best things which are outside the box are actually the things which are closest to you. We look forward to working with our neighbours and with all of Quebec to develop the kind of governance structure which is at once creative and also effective for the benefit of all residents of the north and for all Quebeckers.
I acknowledge the debt of gratitude we have to those whose efforts laid the groundwork for what we are doing today. Please join me as today we honour the vision and the hard work of the architects of the “Paix des Braves”.
Meegwetch, merci, thank you.