The Grand Council of the Crees

Speaking Notes for Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Forum Plan Nord – the North Matters Governance for the North

Posted: 2012-05-03

Québec City, May 3, 2012

Wachiya, Bonjour, Good Morning,

I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to address this forum on Plan Nord.  My presentation today will focus on the Cree approach to governance in Eeyou Istchee.  In addressing this theme, I will speak of the Cree and the importance of Eeyou Istchee for us.  I will also speak of Plan Nord and how it relates to our current governance discussions with the Government of Québec.

Who are the Cree

We are the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.  We call ourselves Eeyou and Eenou.  When translated it simply means the “people”, in Cree the word embodies, our values, our land, our connection to the environment, our Culture, our identity as Cree and an understanding of who we are. Today, there are more than 18,000 of us.

For thousands of years we have lived off the land by hunting, fishing and trapping.  Respect and gratitude are the values that continue to guide us – respect and gratitude for the land and all it contains, for our families and the people who came before us, and for those who seek and protect for future generations.

Our identity was and is shaped by our relationship with the land, the animals and one another.  The challenge facing us today is how to continue to protect this relationship in this rapidly changing world. In fact, while I’m here, many Cree families have returned to the land for our traditional goosebreak. Our schools and many organizations close in respect to the importance of our culture.

Culture and identity are core dimensions and also at the center of our concerns.  Our culture is at risk at times when facing sometimes competing interests in a context of accelerated change where many major projects have not integrated measures to offset impacts to our culture and identity.

The Cree language is very much alive.  It is spoken by almost all the Cree.  But like our culture, our language is important to us so we do not want to see it erode over time.

“Eeyou Istchee” is our traditional territory and homeland.  The term means “the land of the Eeyou/Eenou” (“people”).  We, the Cree, have used and occupied all of Eeyou Istchee for thousands of years, from time immemorial.  We continue to do so today.

Our traditional Territory covers some 400,000 square kilometers.  It includes the lakes and rivers that drain into eastern James Bay and south-eastern Hudson Bay.  This enormous territory embraces a wide range of environments.

Eeyou Istchee is not empty or unoccupied territory.  This Territory is, in fact, the basis of the Cree traditional economy and self-sufficiency.

Eeyou Istchee is divided into a system of ‘traplines’ which are occupied and managed by family groupings for purposes of hunting, fishing, trapping and other traditional activities.  A management system for Cree traditional family territories has been in place for many decades and it works very efficiently. It is here where we notice the impact of global warming. There is increasing unpredictability of environments we have had intimate knowledge for generations.

Our traditional way of life on the land remains central to our identity as Eeyou.  We must balance this with a growing population and opportunities and the need for jobs for our young people.  

The concept of Plan Nord is not our first encounter with development in our territory.  Since the 1970s, the Cree have had to address the delicate balance between protecting our traditions and territory, while at the same time embracing appropriate and sustainable development.  After all, development may be necessary to provide a viable economic base and to ensure that our youth have a real future in our communities. 

One of the key elements to achieve a proper balance is our participation in the governance of our territory.  Participation allows us to ensure:

Cree Approach to Governance

Cree Nation Governance has gradually evolved over time especially since the 1970s, and more recently, with the signing of the Paix des braves in 2002 and the Framework Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee Bay James Territory last year.

The Cree have taken a pragmatic approach that has resulted in greater participation in the process of decision-making over issues affecting the Cree, our lands and our affairs.

Let me give you a short historical overview and present some of the most important milestones in terms of Cree Nation Governance.

On April 30, 1971, the Government of Quebec announced its intention to develop the vast hydroelectric potential of the James Bay territory.

This project was to have dramatic impacts on our entire Territory and our way of life and we took legal proceedings to stop it and to defend our collective rights

These events led to the conclusion in 1975 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement with the Governments of Quebec and Canada as well as the Crown corporations involved in the development of the James Bay hydroelectric project.

The James Bay Agreement provides for, among other things:

  1. Cree local governments in our communities;
  2. a Cree regional government, called the Cree Regional Authority, for the coordination of certain services and programs in all Cree communities;
  3. community and economic development benefits;
  4. the participation of the Cree in education, health and social services, justice and policing;
  5. the recognition of and respect for our traditional activities and harvesting rights in the Territory; and
  6. a regime for the protection of the environment and for the review of the social and environmental impacts of development projects in the Territory;

Under the special environmental regime, the Cree sit on a panel with government officials to review the social and environmental impacts of certain projects in the James Bay territory and they make a recommendation to the Government on project authorization.  At the time, this was in fact the first environmental assessment regime in Canada.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Cree initiated legal proceedings against the Governments of Québec and Canada for various breaches to the James Bay Agreement and in order to force these Governments to properly implement this agreement.

These events led to the conclusion in 2002 of the Paix des braves with the Government of Quebec, and in 2008 of the Cree-Canada New Relationship Agreement with the Government of Canada.

The agreementis a nation-to-nation agreement which strengthened the political, economic and social relations between Québec and the Cree.  This agreement is characterized by cooperation, partnership and mutual respect.

The Paix des braves sets forth a global approach in favour of greater autonomy and responsibility on the part of the Cree for their development and it makes possible an active and ongoing participation by the Cree in economic development activities in the James Bay Territory.

As a result of the Paix des braves, and a special adapted forestry regime provided for in this agreement, the Cree are involved in the planning of forestry activities in Eeyou Istchee.  This special forestry regime provides for Cree involvement at all stages of forestry planning, and imposes conditions on how the forest is cut to ensure that harvesting and traditional rights are protected, and to ensure that forestry can remain a sustainable form of economic activity in our territory.

The Cree-Canada New Relationship Agreement signed in 2008 with the Government of Canada establishes the basis for a new relationship between Canada and the Cree Nation.

This agreement provides for improved implementation of the James Bay Agreement by Canada and for the assumption by the Cree Nation of greater responsibility for Cree economic and community development and for the achievement of increased autonomy

On May 27, 2011, the Cree and Québec signed the Framework Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee Bay James Territory.  The parties gave themselves one year, until the end of May this year, to negotiate a Final Agreement.

These governance negotiations stem from a dispute about Bill 40 (2001).  This law changed the composition of the governing structure of the Municipalité de la Baie-James, entrusted the governance of our traditional territory to the mayors of non-Aboriginal municipalities and localities and excluded the Cree from any participation in the governance of our homeland.

Like the Paix des braves, the Framework Agreement is a nation-to-nation agreement.  It provides for a new model of governance in Eeyou Istchee.  It has two main components. 

First, it provides for greater Cree jurisdiction on Category II lands with respect to such matters as land and resource use and planning.  These Category II lands are situated around our communities. 

The second main element of the Framework Agreement is the creation of a new public regional government for Category III lands, which form approximately 80% of the Territory, on which the Cree and the Jamésiens will work in partnership.  A partnership that will bring lasting benefit to the Cree, the Jamésiens and all Québécois for generations to come.

Cree Vision of Plan Nord

In response to the Government’s Plan Nord, the Grand Council of the Crees set out its own “Cree Vision of Plan Nord” in February 2011.

In this Cree Vision of Plan Nord, we affirm that the Cree welcome the responsible, sustainable development of our lands, Eeyou Istchee.  We declare that the Cree want to be real partners in the development of the territory’s vast potential. 

The Cree Vision of Plan Nord summarizes key principles which must be respected throughout the implementation of the Plan Nord.  For example :

Respect for rights

The Plan Nord must respect Cree rights, particularly those provided for under:

  1. the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement,
  2. the Cree-Québec New Relationship Agreement (2002) – the “Paix des Braves”; and
  3. the Cree-Canada New Relationship Agreement (2008).

Link between the Plan Nord and Governance

The Plan Nord and governance in Eeyou Istchee are inextricably linked.  The governance structures in Eeyou Istchee must provide for real, meaningful participation of the Cree.

Protected Areas

The footprint of past industrial developments in Eeyou Istchee must be taken into account in identifying the 50% of the area to be protected under the Plan Nord from industrial activity. 
The Cree must be fully involved in the definition of the concepts and principles that will guide the Plan Nord.  The Cree must be fully consulted in the preparation of any legislation to give effect to the Plan Nord. 

Access to Resources

The Cree must have our fair share of any funding provided by Government in connection with the Plan Nord. 

Tangible Benefits

In order for the Cree to support the Plan Nord, it must provide the Cree with concrete and tangible benefits. 

The Cree Vision of Plan Nord states certain basic Cree expectations with respect to the Plan Nord.  Some of these principles are that:

  1. The Plan Nord must facilitate new partnerships between the Cree and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal entities.
  2. The Plan Nord must promote wealth creation for the Cree and other residents of Eeyou Istchee, through direct investments, contracts and employment.
  3. The Plan Nord must accelerate job creation for the Cree through the development of Cree technical, professional and managerial workforce and provide a fair share of well paid jobs for the Cree.

It was on the basis of Québec’s commitments to reform the governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory and to include the Crees in such regional governance that the Crees expressed support for the Plan Nord and agreed to sign the Partners’ Declaration at the launch of the Plan Nord in May, 2011.  This Declaration states, among other things:

  1. THAT the Plan Nord must abide by the agreements already concluded with the First Nations and the Inuit living in the territory and their ancestral rights and that its implementation must be sufficiently flexible to allow for a case-by-case examination of each development project, take into account current and future negotiations, and adapt to changes in such negotiations, in particular in respect of governance; …
  2. The principles and expectations stated in the Cree Vision are based on a vision that is also shared by the international community and the Québec government.
  3. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,which has been endorsed by the Government of Canada, recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to determine priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
  4. The Plan Nord Declaration of the Partners, signed on May 9, 2011, stresses the principle of partnership with Aboriginal peoples in order to foster responsible development in the territory covered by the Plan Nord, a principle that was reiterated in the 2011 Plan Nord Action Plan.
  5. The 2011 Plan Nord Action Plan of the Government of Québec recognizes that the regions concerned by the Plan Nord are different from the rest of Québec.  This difference entails the need to adapt government rules, standards and programs to northern conditions and realities.
  6. The 2011 Plan Nord Action Plan advocates partnership agreements with First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in resource development, in particular through Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBA).  Similar calls for partnership are echoed in Québec’s Energy Strategy and Québec’s Mineral Strategy.


The Cree support development that is responsible and sustainable, that respects Cree rights, respects the environment and provides tangible benefits for our people, including in terms of training, employment and business opportunities. 

For the Cree, economic development and governance are closely linked.  Without the right governance structures, there can be no lasting economic development.  We need to get governance right in Eeyou Istchee.

The Framework Agreement on Governance signals a new era in governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory.  A renewed partnership between the Cree and Québec and a new partnership with our neighbours in the governance of the Territory.  A partnership based on mutual respect, fairness and openness.

We are now engaged in negotiations with Québec on a Final Agreement on Governance that will flesh out the governance regime that will apply in Eeyou Istchee James Bay.  Our deadline to conclude this Agreement is the end of May.  Time is short, and the task is complex.  But we are confident that we will meet our goal and translate our vision of partnership in governance into a practical reality.