Speaking Notes Of Grand Chief Dr. Matthew Coon Come To The Committee On Planning And The Public Domain Of The National Assembly Of Québec On Bill 42
An Act Establishing The Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government And Introducing Certain Legislative Amendments Concerning The Cree Nation Government
MAY 29, 2013
- Madame Chair, Members of the Committee on Planning and the Public Domain, Wachiya, bonjour, good day. Thank you for inviting me to share with you the perspective of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee on Bill 42, An Act establishing the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government and introducing certain legislative amendments concerning the Cree Nation Government.
- Bill 42 is the legislation that will implement the Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory concluded between the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and the Gouvernement du Québec on July 24, 2012. As such, it is legislation of fundamental importance, for it will define a new partnership in governance between the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, our neighbours, the Jamésiens, the Gouvernement du Québec and all Québeckers.
- For the first time, this legislation will bring the Cree and the Jamésiens together in a real governance partnership. This partnership will benefit the Cree, the Jamésiens and all Québeckers for generations to come. It will help to realize the vision of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement and the Paix des Braves. It will help to realize the promise of northern development. It will serve as a model, not just for Québec, but for all of Canada and beyond.
- At the outset, I wish to acknowledge the leadership shown by Premier Marois and the Gouvernement du Québec in tabling this legislation. The Agreement on Governance was concluded last summer with the previous Government, after more than two years of intense negotiations. After the election of September 2012, Premier Marois gave me the commitment of her Government to honour and to implement the Agreement on Governance. The tabling of Bill 42 marks an important step in meeting this commitment, for which, on behalf of the Cree Nation, I wish to thank Premier Marois and her Government. It remains now only to adopt this Act for our new governance partnership to begin.
- Before commenting on Bill 42, a word on the Cree and Eeyou Istchee. We are the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. We call ourselves Eeyou and Eenou. Our name means, simply, “the people”. There are more than 18,000 of us, and about 16,000 reside in the nine Cree communities. For thousands of years, we have lived in Eeyou Istchee.
- “Eeyou Istchee”, or James Bay, is the traditional territory and homeland of the Cree of northern Quebec. The term means “the land of the Eeyou/Eenou”. Eeyou Istchee is intensively used and managed by the Cree in our traditional activities of hunting, fishing and trapping, which remain the foundation of our culture. The extent of Cree use and occupation of Eeyou Istchee is shown by the map of Cree traditional family territories.
- But Cree occupation of the Territory is not restricted to traditional activities. While still actively engaged in our traditional culture, we have become increasingly involved in other forms of economic activity in Eeyou Istchee.
- Over the past 30 years and more, the Cree have been actively building partnerships with our neighbours, the Jamésiens, and with businesses across Québec. We have entered into agreements with Hydro-Québec and with mining and forestry companies. In the space of two generations, we have We have shown that we are very much “open for business”. We have established a track record as reliable partners in the sustainable development of northern Québec, for the benefit of the Cree and all Québeckers.
- What has brought us here together today to talk about Bill 42 and the Agreement on Governance? As is often the case, the past shines a light on the future. So let me briefly touch on the context that has given rise to the Agreement on Governance and Bill 42.
- First, the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee consider our relationship with Québec as absolutely central to our development. This relationship is dynamic. Since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement in 1975, the relationship between the Crees and Québec has passed through many stages. It has broadened and deepened with time to become a real partnership.
- In 1970, the Government of Québec announced the massive James Bay Hydroelectric Project. This enormous project would radically affect Eeyou Istchee and the traditional way of life of the Cree, based on hunting, fishing and trapping. Yet, at the time, we were not consulted, nor was our consent sought. We were forced to take legal proceedings to defend our rights, our environment and our way of life.
- These proceedings led to negotiations between the Cree, the Inuit, Québec and Canada, which culminated in the signature on November 11, 1975 of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement.
- The James Bay Agreement is the first modern Aboriginal land claims treaty in Canada. It is a complex document, containing 30 chapters that address such varied subjects as a Cree land regime, local and regional government, health and education, justice and police, an innovative income security program to support Cree traditional activities and much more.
- In presenting the James Bay Agreement to the National Assembly in 1975 for approval, Québec’s negotiator, John Ciaccia, gave a glimpse of the vision the parties had for the governance of the Territory:
The native communities will have local administrations, substantially in the manner of local communities throughout Québec, and regional administrations will exercise municipal functions in areas beyond the old established communities. In districts inhabited by both native and non native populations, Cree representatives and representatives of the Municipality of James Bay will form a joint administration to be known as the Zone Council.
- The James Bay Agreement sees the Cree as full citizens of Québec, with the right to participate fully in the governance of the Territory. Referring to the new governance structures to be established pursuant to the Agreement, Mr. Ciaccia continued:
Why do we want to do all this? Simply because there are people living in the North, who need public services, who are counting on good administration of their affairs, and who have a right to participate in that administration. The principles of sound and rational administration prompt us to act in this manner. The well-being and the interests of the people require that we do it.
- Unfortunately, the vision of the James Bay Regional Zone Council as a governance partnership was never fulfilled. The Zone Council was never adequately funded and never exercised any real governance functions.
- For some time after its signature, the promise of partnership of the James Bay Agreement was not fulfilled. The 1980’s and 1990’s were a difficult time in many ways. Many disputes arose between the Cree and Governments because the Cree considered that the Governments were not living up to the promises they made in the treaty. Legal proceedings followed one another until it became difficult to keep track.
- Something had to change. And that change came about through the vision of former Grand Chief Ted Moses and former Premier Bernard Landry. In 2001, they agreed that it was time to set aside the old conflicts. It was time to “reset” the relationship. And so, they determined to create a new relationship, a new partnership, through a “New Relationship Agreement”. This Agreement was signed on February 7, 2002. It has come to be known as the Paix des Braves.
- The Paix des Braves marked a real turning point in Cree-Québec relations. From one of confrontation and conflict, the relationship has matured into one of cooperation and partnership. The Paix des Braves established a lasting partnership between the Crees and Québec in the development of the resource wealth of Eeyou Istchee – energy, mines and forestry. It opened the way to new agreements on health and social services, education, justice, police and economic development and, now, governance. It gave the Crees the resources to advance community development, in both human and physical terms.
- The Cree perception of Québec has changed. Québec is increasingly viewed as a valued partner in a Nation-to-Nation relationship. If this has come about, it is due, first and foremost, to the Paix des Braves.
- The Paix des Braves established a partnership between the Cree and Québec for the economic development of the Territory. It did not, however, address the governance of the Territory.
- Economic development and governance are closely linked. Without the right governance structures, there can be no lasting economic development. The Cree must be full partners in the governance of Eeyou Istchee if development is to deliver its promise.
- Yet, as strange as it sounds in 2013, the Cree have until now been excluded from the governance of Eeyou Istchee. This exclusion resulted in large part from the adoption in 2001 of Bill 40, the Act to amend the James Bay Region Development Act and other Legislative Provisions. This Act unilaterally changed the composition of the Council of the Municipalité de Baie?James (MBJ), without consulting the Cree and without Cree consent.
- Despite the fact that we represent the majority of the population of the James Bay Territory, Bill 40 specifically excluded us from any participation in the Territory’s governance. Not only did this exclusion offend basic democratic principles, it violated our treaty rights under the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement.
- This situation clearly could not be allowed to continue. And so, in February 2010, the Cree and Québec put in place a special Nation?to?Nation negotiation process to address governance matters in the Territory. This special process led to the signature on May 27, 2011 by the Cree and Québec of the Framework Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory. One year later, on July 24, 2012 the Cree Nation and the Gouvernement du Québec signed the Agreement on Governance in Eeyou Istchee James Bay.
- The Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory signals a new era in governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory. It establishes a new partnership between the Cree, Québec and our neighbours the Jamésiens for the governance of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay. It translates the principles of inclusiveness and partnership in governance into practical mechanisms. For the first time, it gives the Cree the sense that we will be real partners in the governance of our homeland.
- The Governance Agreement has two main components. First, it provides for the creation of a new public Regional Government on “Category III lands”, which form 80% of the Territory. This Regional Government will be composed of representatives of the Cree and of our neighbours, the Jamésiens, in equal numbers. It will exercise powers under Québec laws of municipal management, economic development and land and resource planning. It will replace the current Municipalité de Baie-James with a modernized, representative governance institution.
- The second main element of the Governance Agreement provides for greater Cree autonomy on “Category II lands”. The Governance Agreement provides that the Cree will exercise powers under Québec laws with respect to matters such as municipal government, economic development and land and resource planning and management.
- The Governance Agreement signals a new governance partnership based on mutual respect, fairness and openness, consistent with the James Bay Agreement and the Paix des Braves.
- As I said at the beginning, Bill 42 is the legislation that will implement the Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory. Bill 42 is therefore legislation of fundamental importance, for it will define a new partnership in governance between the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, our neighbours, the Jamésiens, the Gouvernement du Québec and all Québeckers.
- In the first place, Bill 42 establishes as of 1 January 2014 the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government, which will replace the Municipalité de Baie-James.
- The Regional Government represents a first in Canada: it will be the first formal partnership in governance between an Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal population.
- The Regional Government will be a municipal body governed by the Cities and Towns Act, subject to certain special provisions it sets out. It will have jurisdiction over Category III lands, that is, the territory of Municipalité de Baie-James as it existed on 31 December 2013, excluding Category II lands.
- Bill 42 sets out rules governing the council of the Regional Government, its composition, the designation of its members and the allocation of votes. For the first ten years of operation of the Regional Government, representation and votes will be allocated equally between the Cree and Jamésiens. This allocation will be reviewed every ten years in accordance with a formula to be agreed based on democratic principles and demographic realities. Until such an agreement has been entered into and implemented by legislation, the Cree and Jamésiens will continue to have equal representation and votes on the council. During the first five years, Québec will have non-voting representation on the council.
- Bill 42 provides special rules regarding the manner in which council meetings are held and how decisions are made. Unless specifically required, questions will be decided by a simple majority vote. In order to protect the interests of both the Cree and Jamésiens, certain more sensitive subjects will require a special double majority vote. For example, the annual budget, land use and development plans and modification of municipal boundaries will require the vote of two-thirds of all the Cree representatives and two-thirds of all the Jamésien representatives.
- As to powers, the Regional Government will exercise essentially those now exercised by the Municipalité de Baie-James. In addition, the Regional Government may affirm its jurisdiction regarding fields of jurisdiction belonging to a regional county municipality, such as land use and development planning. In such case, where the Regional Government affirms its jurisdiction regarding land use, specific government policy directions must be established by the Gouvernement du Québec in consultation with the Regional Government, taking into account the specific character of the territory and special issues related to resource development.
- The Regional Government will act as a regional conference of elected officers, or CRÉ, for its territory, including with respect to regional development. The Regional Government shall also exercise the functions of a regional land and natural resource commission for its territory as well as for the territory of the four “enclosed municipalities” of Chapais, Chibougamau, Lebel-sur-Quévillon and Matagami.
- In summary, then, the Regional Government represents a new “joint venture” in governance between the Cree and the Jamésiens of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay territory. It will enable us, for the first time, to work together in governance. It will allow us to get to know one another better.
- And so, the Regional Government will build trust between the Cree and Jamésiens and allow us to achieve, together, things that we can scarcely begin to imagine today. This is the challenge set for us by Bill 42, and it is one that we must take up, to create a better future for our children and their children.
- Bill 42 amends the Act respecting the Cree Regional Authority so that the Regional Authority will be known, from now on, as the Cree Nation Government. The Cree Nation Government will exercise certain functions and powers under Québec laws on Category II lands, which shall remain public lands.
- For example, with respect to municipal management, the Cree Nation Government may affirm its jurisdiction over all or part of Category II lands with respect to any field of jurisdiction attributed by Québec law to a local municipality or a regional county municipality.
- If the Cree Nation Government affirms its jurisdiction with respect to the strategic vision statement and the land use planning and development plan, these documents must be consistent with the policy directions, principles and objectives determined by the Cree Nation Government in consultation with the Cree communities and with the approval of the Gouvernement du Québec. The vision statement and land use plan must be approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy in accordance with a process defined in detail in the Act.
- The Cree Nation Government will act as a regional conference of elected officers for the Cree and with respect to Category I and Category II lands. In this capacity, the Cree Nation Government will establish the Eeyou Planning Commission in lieu of the regional land and natural resource commission elsewhere in Québec.
- The Commission’s function will be to prepare a regional land and resource use plan for Category II lands. This plan will replace the regional plan for integrated land and resource development provided for elsewhere in Québec. The Act defines a specific process by which the Commission will prepare this plan in consultation with the Cree communities and other stakeholders. The plan will be submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources for approval in accordance with this process.
- The Cree Nation Government will also be invited to take part in the development of the public land use plan for Category II lands in accordance with a specific procedure.
- With regard to local development, the Cree Nation Government may establish a local development centre or choose to exercise itself the functions of such a centre. In doing so, the Cree Nation Government must take into account the policy directions, strategies and objectives it determines in consultation with the Cree communities.
- In short, the Cree Nation Government will exercise powers and functions under Québec laws on Category II lands that will remain public lands of Québec. Thus the Cree Nation will assume greater autonomy over Category II lands by integrating more fully into Québec governance institutions. With the Agreement on Governance and Bill 42, the Crees are sending a strong signal that they are “buying into” Québec.
- Consistent with the Agreement on Governance, Bill 42 maintains the Société de développement de la Baie James and provides for greater Cree collaboration in its activities. This reflects the recognition by the Cree of the Société’s expertise in economic development as well as their confidence in its management. The SDBJ will provide additional opportunities for the Cree and Jamésiens to work together in the development of the territory for their common benefit.
- During the negotiations leading to the Agreement on Governance, the Jamésiens expressed certain concerns. The Agreement and Bill 42 address these concerns:
- the Regional Government will ensure that the localities of Radisson, Val Canton and Villebois continue to receive for five years the municipal services as well as the administrative and financial support previously provided by the Municipalité de Baie-James;
- the employees of Municipalité de Baie-James will become, without reduction in salary, employees of the Regional Government and retain their seniority and employee benefits;
- the place of work of these employees may not be changed for five years by reason solely of the constitution of the Regional Government;
- the location of the Regional Government’s head office or its main offices may not be changed for five years. After this period, any such change will require a special double majority vote of the council of the Regional Government;
- the positions of chair and vice-chair of the council of the Regional Government will alternate between the Cree and Jamésiens;
- matters of special interest to the Jamésiens, such as services to the localities or the change in the location of the head office of the Regional Government, will require a special double majority vote of the council.
- Bill 42 will introduce a new era in governance in Eeyou Istchee Baie-James. It marks a significant change in relations between the Cree, our neighbours, the Jamésiens, and Québec. This change is for the better, and we will all be the better for it, for we will learn to work together and to know one another better.
- Nevertheless, change is never easy, and it is normal that it gives rise to concerns. These concerns should be squarely addressed.
- One concern sometimes heard is that the objective of the Cree in the Agreement on Governance is to “take control” of the North. A variation is that the Cree are seeking somehow to partition the North.
- But if the Agreement on Governance and Bill 42 show anything, it is that the Cree are seeking to “buy into” Québec, not to “buy out”. The Cree are seeking, as Aboriginal citizens of Québec, to participate more fully in the governance of Eeyou Istchee James Bay. To this end, we will assume on Category II lands certain powers under Québec laws and use certain Québec institutions. Category II lands will remain lands in the domain of the State.
- As for Category III lands, the Cree seek to partner with the Jamésiens and Québec in their governance. We are not looking to exclude anyone from the governance of the Territory. We seek only to be included in its governance, in the spirit of mutual respect and openness that underlies the Paix des Braves and the Agreement on Governance.
- Of course, the easy thing would be to do nothing. Change is never easy, and it takes political courage to bring about change. But to do nothing would be only to store up trouble for the future. And it would not be the right or fair thing to do.
- Fifty years ago, René Lévesque was Minister of Natural Resources. He was probably the first senior Québec political figure to take a real interest in the Aboriginal peoples of the North. His declaration of government policy regarding the Inuit in September 1963 was far in advance of its time. It applies with equal force to our own time and to the Cree:
[TRANSLATION] We must therefore ask ourselves how we should behave in their regard in order to permit them to play, as soon as possible, their true role, that is, a leading role in the development of the territory. It is they who must be in charge of the development of their community and it is among them also that we must hope to find future entrepreneurs and leaders in the economic life of New Québec.
- Twenty years later, in 1983, René Lévesque, now Premier of Québec, showed the same openness and generosity of spirit in proposing the “Fifteen Principles regarding the Aboriginal Peoples” to the Council of Ministers. These principles include the recognition of the Aboriginal peoples of Québec as distinct nations with the right to possess and control their own lands within Québec and to govern themselves on these lands under Québec laws.
- These principles led to the formal adoption in 1985 by the National Assembly of the resolution proposed by Premier Lévesque recognizing both the Aboriginal peoples of Québec as nations as well as their Aboriginal and treaty rights, including those of the Cree under the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement.
- It was the same spirit of mutual respect, openness and generosity that allowed former Grand Chief Ted Moses and former Premier Bernard Landry to sign the Paix des Braves in 2002. And it was this same spirit of mutual respect and openness that led former Premier Jean Charest and me to sign the Agreement on Governance in 2012.
- None of this was easy to do. It was just the right thing. There were plenty of reasons to do nothing, and plenty of objections against doing anything. But, in every case, Québec and the Cree chose to do the right thing, despite all the obstacles, despite all the objections. Somehow, we found the courage together to look beyond, to be guided by a shared vision of Nation-to-Nation openness and respect.
- Again today we have the challenge and the opportunity to do the right thing. Once again, the Cree, Jamésiens and Québec are called upon to take up the challenge of trusting one another in order to create a better, shared future. Bill 42, by creating the Regional Government and the Cree Nation Government, allows us to take up this challenge. We really have no other choice. We owe it to our children.
- In closing, I wish to salute the leadership and courage of Premier Marois and her Government in honouring the commitment to the Cree Nation to enact the legislation required to implement the Agreement on Governance. I respectfully ask the Committee unanimously to recommend the adoption of Bill 42 by the National Assembly at the earliest opportunity.
Thank you for your attention.