The Crees and Inuit decided to use the courts to defend their rights over their traditional territories in Eeyou Istchee and Northern Quebec, against the on-going construction of the La Grande Complex and the plans of Quebec to build two other massive hydroelectric complexes (Great Whale River and the NBR Project). After 6 months of testimony before Justice Malouf by the Crees and the Inuit and on the basis of the arguments put forward by their respective legal teams led by James O’Reilly and John Lemieux, an interlocutory injunction was granted ceasing the work on the Complex.
While the lawyers for Quebec argued that the Crees did not have collective rights over their ancestral lands, The Cree and Inuit hunters, argued that the integrity of the environment was essential to their survival as peoples.
While this decision was subsequently overturned within a week of it having been rendered, Aboriginal rights to their ancestral lands had been firmly inscribed in the jurisprudence of Canada. The case has since become known internationally around the world and is one of the foundational decisions that led to the elaboration of the Aboriginal rights within the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Without the Malouf Decision it is highly unlikely that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Treaty would have ever been signed. It was due to the Inuit and Cree leaders of that time who recognized the threat presented to their ways of life, that we, the Crees, and Inuit Peoples continue to thrive today in Quebec following our respective traditional ways of life, building our communities and participating in the development of our territories.” Stated Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come.