The Grand Council of the Crees

Address By Grand Chief Dr. Matthew Coon Come At the Inauguration of the Eeyou istchee James Bay Regional Government

Posted: 2014-01-22

The Inauguration of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government

Mr. Gendron, Madame Ouellet, Madame Larouche, Mr. Ferland, Mr. Romeo Saganash, Mayor Cyr, Mayor Gamache, Mayor Dubé, Mayor Poirier, Chief Blackned, Deputy Chief Mark, Dr. Ted Moses, Chief George, Chief Bobbish, Chief Georgekish, Chief Gilpin, Chief Wapachee, Chief Shecapio, Chief Neeposh, Chief Gull, other representatives of the region, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

[Introductory remarks in Cree]

It is an honour for me to be in the presence of the people in our region—both Cree and Jamésien—who have taken up the challenge to chart a new path for our collective futures, and who have been charged with the solemn responsibility of establishing the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government and of implementing the Agreement On Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory.

This Regional Government which we are inaugurating today reflects a vision of a new path for this region which was based on the noble principles of inclusiveness, democracy and social harmony.  We all recognized the need for change in the way in which our region was governed so that all of us, together, would be able to see our communities grow, thrive and prosper.  Our vision was to put into place a system of governance which was founded on the view that those of us living in this rich and diverse region have more in common with each other than there are things which divide us.  Indeed, we began to see clearly that it was those very divisions that prevented us from coming together to build a unified region which could be stronger, healthier and which could create a brighter future for us all.  We realized that the health of our separate futures requires the health of our collective future as well.

Le gouvernement régional que nous inaugurons aujourd'hui reflète la vision d'un nouveau chemin pour cette région qui a été fondée sur les nobles principes de l'inclusion, de la démocratie et de l'harmonie sociale. Notre vision était de mettre en place un système de gouvernance qui a été fondée sur l'idée que nous qui vivent dans cette région riche et diversifié ont plus en commun avec l'autre que il ya des choses qui nous divisent.

We are now at the critical point where, through the establishment of our Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government, we will now embark upon the realization of that grand vision on behalf of all of our peoples and on behalf of all of our future generations.   In the end, it is not how we will be judged in the short term that matters, but by the way our efforts are viewed and assessed by our descendents in the generations to come.  It will be history I believe that will look favourably on what we are doing here today.

At its core, what this new Regional Government is really about is a new relationship.  A new relationship among the peoples of this region based on new and different premises.  The basic premise underlying this new government is that we all have a stake in what happens here, and because we all have a stake, we all have a voice.  No one’s voice is excluded, no one’s voice is diminished and no one’s voice is ignored.

Today marks the culmination of our efforts to build with the Jamésiens and with Québec a truly inclusive form of governance in the Eeyou Istchee Bay James territory.  With the new Regional Government, we are turning the page on the old politics of exclusion, and embarking on a new partnership in governance between the Crees and Jamésiens.  In so doing, the Regional Government gives life to the original vision in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement of 1975 of a partnership in governance of the Territory.  We are building something never before seen in Québec.  We know that the success of our new Regional Government will depend on what we, Crees and Jamésiens, make of it.  So let us now, together, get down to the hard work of governing.

Le principe de base qui sous-tend ce nouveau gouvernement, c'est que nous avons tous un intérêt dans ce qui se passe ici, et parce que nous avons tous un intérêt, nous avons tous une voix. La voix de personne n'est exclu, la voix de personne est diminuée et la voix de personne est ignorée.  

We have, all of us, Crees and Jamésiens, come a very, very long way in the last 40 years since the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed and when the beginnings of our common destinies were forged.  Before then, we Crees were primarily hunters, fishermen and trappers on our traditional territory and we had very little contact with others.  In that era, it never occurred to anyone to consult with us or to ask for our consent for any development projects on our traditional territory.  We were told that we had no rights.

Our Jamésien friends at that time were in primarily single-industry towns whose future fluctuated with the prices of timber and minerals and they suffered from the insecurities which that way of life entailed.  Their futures were always tenuous and it must have been very difficult for their families to count on a stable future for their children.

Now, as a result of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the “Paix des Braves”, andour Governance Agreement, we Crees have had our rights recognized and affirmed.  Those rights have been translated into tangible benefits for our communities and our communities have become growing and dynamic centers of economic activity.

At the same time, the towns in our region have become more diversified economically and culturally, and the range of civic institutions has multiplied dramatically making them more cosmopolitan, more stable, more outward-looking and also more economically dynamic municipalities.

We have together recognized and acknowledged to one another that we are all here to stay, that our futures will always be intertwined and that it is in our mutual interest to collaborate to promote the health of the region as a whole.

Ensemble, nous avons reconnu et admis à l'autre que nous sommes tous ici, que nos avenir seront toujours liés et qu'il est dans notre intérêt mutuel de collaborer pour promouvoir la santé de la région dans son ensemble.

At the same time, we all recognize that we have a past to overcome.  On our side, things have not always been easy for us.  There were times, as you know, when we needed to fight to ensure that our rights were recognized and there were times when we needed to fight to ensure that we would eventually be on a path of inclusion rather than to continue down a road of marginalization.

Sometimes courage is, indeed, about fighting for a just and an honourable cause.  And this we have shown we can do rather effectively.

What we have also learned over the last 40 years is that, at a certain point in our evolution, courage must also be about choosing reconciliation, harmony and compassion.  For all of us, it often takes courage to move beyond old patterns, old attitudes and old ways of thinking. 

This is precisely what it means to have a “paix des braves”, a peace of the brave.  And this is also what it means to have an Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government.  As much as the Regional Government will be about the technicalities and the processes related to the long-term planning and management of the territory, our new Regional Government will also be the vehicle through which we will come to know each other and collectively we will all move beyond the thinking and the attitudes associated with our difficult pasts which prevented us from collaborating on a future which could be for us all and by us all.

It is through our work in this new Regional Government that we will get to know one another better, we will come to understand one another better, and we will come to appreciate one another.

It is my fervent hope that through working together, and working through the difficult issues which we will no doubt encounter in our Regional Government, we will dispel the myth that the interests of aboriginal peoples and non-aboriginal peoples living in the same region are forever irreconcilable.  In so doing, we will pave the way for a more prosperous future for all our communities and we will show the way for the rest of the country.  And we will accomplish this, in part, by each of our peoples having the courage to overcome the past and having the courage to invent a new, a unique and an optimistic future that we can all take pride in.

Over the course of the last 40 years, the Cree Nation has concluded over 75 agreements.  So, we know a little bit about how to negotiate and how to implement agreements.  If there is one thing we know for sure about agreements it is that agreements are only as good as the way in which they are implemented.  The value of any agreement can be measured by the success of its implementation.

Also, the integrity of the parties to an agreement can be assessed by the spirit with which they implement an agreement.  Agreements are certainly about the technical matters which are the subject of their content, and they are also about the honour of their signatories.

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  It is also true that the first steps of a journey are the most important as they determine the direction of that journey.  May our initial steps in the workings of our new Regional Government be guided by our highest instincts, by our highest ideals and our adherence to the noble vision reflected in the Agreement which has given rise to this Regional Government.  Today, and in the days and months to come let us all become statesmen and let us all be guided by the dignified collective vision that all of our future generations will be grateful for.

Nous esperons que nos premiers pas dans le fonctionnement de notre nouveau gouvernement régional soient guidés par nos instincts les plus élevés, par nos idéaux les plus élevés et notre adhésion à la vision noble reflétée dans l'accord qui a donné lieu à ce gouvernement régional. Aujourd'hui, et dans les jours et les mois à venir il faut que nous tous soyons hommes d’Etat et nous devons tous nous relever le défi de la réalisation de notre vision collective.

In that same vein, I would like to give a very special welcome to the former employees of the James Bay Municipality who have agreed to apply their knowledge and their skills to the functioning of the new Regional Government.  It is my hope that they will share in the vision we have established for this new Government and that they will help us to achieve great things for our region.

I am very pleased that the first Chairperson of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government is Madame Manon Cyr from Chibougamau.  We have known Madame Cyr for quite a number of years and we know that she shares the vision which underlies the Regional Government we are inaugurating today.   Even before the negotiations of the Governance Agreement, in her previous roles working with various regional Jamésien entities, and then as Mayor, she worked very hard to promote the building of bridges among our peoples and the identification of joint initiatives which would be mutually beneficial.  Even then, she approached her own vision in a spirit of respect, a spirit of openness and a spirit of harmony.  Madame Cyr, we wish you well in your efforts and we know you will do your utmost to put the Regional Government on a sound footing and in the right direction.  Please know that you can count on our total support.  It will be my personal honour to serve as the Vice Chair of the Regional Government and we will have many opportunities to share our views and our perspectives and, together, ensure that this journey of our peoples is going in the right direction.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work on the part of both the Cree and Jamésien parties who have organized this inauguration and for their efforts in planning the initial steps in the operations of the new Regional Government.

In conclusion, I want to share with you my own personal view that as we begin our work together in the Regional Government, and as we get to know each other, it is my hope that we will also be letting go of our mistrust and our fears.  We must do this.  For fear is the enemy of an open heart…fear is the enemy of compassion…and fear is the enemy of creativity.  Yet these are all the personal qualities which all of us will require to make our journey a successful one.

It is our custom when visitors come from afar to our hunting camps that we hold a feast in their honour.  It is in this way that we show respect for our visitors and it is also in this way that we share the bounty which the land offers.  I think it is only fitting on this historic occasion that we should hold a feast today to honour our guests and to express gratitude for what we have and for what we have accomplished together.  Please join us after this ceremony for a feast in honour of our collective journey.

Meegwetch and Merçi Beaucoup.