Québec, July 24, 2012 – The Government of Québec and the Cree Nation today signed the Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory. The agreement is designed to give the Crees expanded powers over lands and resources. It calls for the creation of a new regional government to replace the Municipalité de Baie-James. The new government will consist of Crees and James Bay residents each having an equal number of votes.
"This is the first time in the history of Québec that we achieve such a level of cooperation among Crees and James Bay residents," said the Premier of Québec. "The signing of this agreement demonstrates that together we can achieve major projects and that we share a common will to implement the Plan Nord in harmony and with respect for the needs and interests of each."
The new governance model will enable the Crees to exercise greater autonomy and have more responsibilities, particularly in terms of managing the territory and natural resources. The Eeyou Istchee James Bay regional government will have the same responsibilities, functions, and powers as local municipalities, regional county municipalities, regional conferences of elected officers, and regional commissions on natural resources and land. In addition, the Crees will have exclusive jurisdiction over hydro-electric projects of 50 MW or less and wind projects within certain areas of the territory.
The Government of Québec considers it important to equip the First Nations to be part of the development of their territory. This agreement follows the principles that are guiding the Plan Nord process, which is to ensure the participation of Aboriginals in decision-making and in the realization of development projects. The Crees and James Bay residents will thus participate together in the governance of the territory they share – for the benefit of their residents and of the entire Québec population. The Plan Nord could not happen without the support and collaboration of the Cree Nation and that of James Bay residents.
"The unifying element of our governance initiatives is that we are now capable of relying on the land, as we have always done, for our future subsistence and well-being," said Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees. "We are also assured of the opportunity to put our common desire into practice for sustainable and orderly development for the benefit of all people in our region – Crees and James Bay residents – and ultimately for all Quebecers."
"This has considerably changed our negotiation processes and will ensure more positive, equal, and constructive relations," said Geoffrey Kelley, Minister responsible for Native Affairs. "This new structure illustrates the Government of Québec's openness, attentiveness, and good faith. It speaks of a new era: one of cooperation in which other profound changes can occur faster." For the Crees, this agreement based on the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement and the Paix des Braves represents a new step in creating a partnership for the development of the James Bay territory.
"Mr. Premier, today we are making a major contribution to the history of Québec and the history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. We have succeeded in aligning the great forces of history with the principles of human rights, inclusion, social justice, and harmony. Not only the Cree Nation, but all of Québec and dare I say all of Canada will benefit from our unshakeable commitment to these principles," concluded the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Matthew Coon Come.
A second agreement was also signed today between representatives of the Government of Québec and the Crees regarding various aspects related in particular to the maintenance of municipal services and the transfer of employees from the Municipalité de Baie-James to the regional government.