As you are probably aware, the WFN is in the process of mapping out and defining our traditionalterritory. Once this is done, a statement will follow declaring ourselves as a people and formallyreaffirming our rights over the extent of our territory (those that Quebec and Canada claim wereextinguished in 1975). This process is in line with the recommendations of the Eeyou Estchee Commission in its report of 1996. It is in regard to these recommendations and subsequent mandates given to the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) that we wish to state our concerns.
In October 1995, at a Special General Assembly of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, we decided as Eeyouch to begin a process of nation-building with a main objective of restructuring and reorganizing the Cree Nation Government. This was proposed so that we would make every effort to have structures in place to be able to have a political body that represents the dree Nation as a whole and over the full extent of Eeyou Istchee. At the time, we felt it urgent to undertake this process as part of our response to the Quebec independence issue.
After having held public hearings in the Cree communities, the EEC in 1996 published its reportcalled: “Self-determination: The Voice of a Nation and People on Eeyou and Eeyou
Estchee.” This document makes a number of recommendations that reflect the will of the Eeyouch as apeople with respect to self-determination and self-governance. I recount some of those recommendations as they have a direct bearing on the matters raised here:
1) Eeyou of Eeyou Estchee should maintain and continue to act in solidarity and unity to achieve particular aspirations and goals and benefit from the power of common beliefs and mission. Such a process enables collective decision-making and collective action and facilitates Eeyou empowerment.
2) Eeyou should encourage and promote direct participation of all Eeyou, particularly youth, women and trappers, in the decisionmaking process of Eeyou.
3) As a goal, Eeyou of Eeyou Estchee must seek and achieve political self-empowerment, at the local and regional (national) level, through self-reliance, vision and faith.
4) Eeyou of Eeyou Estchee, as a nation and as a people, must ensure their direct and meaningful participation in any process that affects rights, status and interests of Eeyou as well as we the determination of the status and future of Eeyou Estchee.
With regard to the above, we now ask: When will this process of redefining the structure and organization of Cree government begin? It seems to us that the Cree leadership is not moving, or possibly even moving in the opposite direction with respect to the will of our people as reflected in the 1996 EEC report.
We wish to raise, among others, certain issues that we perceive to be of utmost importance that may,down the road, get in the way of achieving the goals and aspirations of the Eeyouch with respect toself-determination and self-governance. These issues are the following:
Quebec negotiations/ Mou Implementation Agreement with Quebec
With regard to the negotiations with Quebec to be concluded under the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding(MOU), we are very much concerned about a number of aspects. In particular we feel that Issue 5 of thecurrent draft agreement is at best premature and should be removed. This clause
sets out a frontal attack on the Cree institutions by stating that the review to be done will be for the purpose of bringing non-Na-tives (most probably from the Radissonie group) into the institutions set up to protect Cree rights.
You will also note that the Cree institutions are to be reviewed to make them more efficient and perhaps even to abolish them. In contrast, SDBJ and SEBJ will only be reviewed in regard to what they are doing now. It is notable that Hydro-Quebec is not on the list. If there is to be a review of institutions and entities, why are Quebec’s institutions not also subject to elimination? Moreover, it has been evident in the Great Whale review that Quebec and particularly the Radissonie Group has wanted to take the review committees apart. This is important to note.
We believe that the Cree Nation cannot let Quebec even begin to think we would accept such a review of Cree institutions with their streamlining or even elimination in mind. These Cree institutions were a negotiated response in 1975 to the flooding of our lands, purported extinguishment of our rights in and to our lands, and the invasion of Canada and Quebec government authority into Eeyou Istchee. The WFN is not under any illusions that our Cree institutions as outlined in the JBNQA and subject to attack under this MOU draft document are a complete response to Cree needs and self-determination. In fact they are not, and this is why there needs to be a full approach to developing a Cree national government and self-determination as mentioned here.
We find it rather disturbing that non-Crees are being invited now to participate in determining the future of the Eeyouch and our institutions. With regard to this matter, we ask: Why is this item coming up for negotiation in this way and at this time? Who exactly will benefit from such a process of review leading to abolition of our treaty rights to these institutions?
It is especially inappropriate for us to permit the Quebec negotiations to determine the future of the Cree institutions, particularly when the process is so weighted in the favour of Quebec. It is especially the case when we have not consulted with our people on the nature of the process and, more importantly, when we do not even have a consensus among ourselves on what it is we want out of any reorganization of the Cree government. Our reorganization must be conducted by us, and not at some table with Quebec or any other government.
It seems that we are heading toward selling out the basic opportunities that we have toward gaining total control of our future as understood by our people as the 1995 Special General Assembly in Chisasibi, in exchange for a few “tangible results” which do not really address the needs of our future generations in the long-run. This, certainly, merits serious thought.
With regard to the Quebec negotiations, we request as an absolute minimum that Issue 5 be removed from the proposed implementation agreement if we are going to be serious about signing it with Quebec. This has been discussed by the WFN Council at a meeting of yesterday. We ask that you undertake the necessary changed before the date of the signing which we understand is next week, and bring this matter to the Cree people to be discussed first before a final decision is made.
Cree/Hydro-Quebec Task Force
As you know, several articles in The Nation have come out for public consumption regardinggthe activities of the task force. It is evident that Hydro-Quebec is openly stating that the Creesare willing to participate through investments and other arrangements in future development projects.Talking to the media about these matters is no doubt deliberately done by the officials at Hydro-Quebecto take advantage of the fact The Nation is widely distributed across Canada and in the United States.This clearly undermines the position of the Cree Nation with respect to the proposed GWR diversion planby Hydro-Quebec and other development projects on Eeyou Istchee.
On my trip to the Eastern United States in November 1997, I was often confronted with questions as towhy the Crees are negotiating with Hydro-Quebec on future development projects. It came as a surpriseto me that references were made to the activities of the HQ/Cree task force, whose mandate had not yetbeen defined at the time.
While we understand that this task force was created to settle past obligations of Hydro-Quebectoward the Crees, we would like to see a clear mandate established. It has always been our concern thatwhile we consider ourselves as a strong nation, we are still talking with a multinational corporationwhose role is clearly to undermine our strength. Negotiations with Hydro-Quebec
as you know, imply that we recognize its jurisdiction over Eeyou Istchee on resource developmentand other matters. This needs to be taken into consideration seriously as we move towardself-determination.
Resource/Revenue Sharing Agreements With Quebec
Again, the idea of resource and revenue-sharing negotiations with Hydro-Quebec, Quebec or Canada without a clear understanding of the ownership status of land and resources within Eeyou Istchee is premature and, indeed, an issue that needs clarification before we move on in this direction, if we are going to. We have an understanding that, unfortunately, the preliminary discussions on these matters are being discussed (with a multinational corporation) at the level of the Cree/Hydro-Quebec task force. This, needless to say, is quite disturbing.
In regard to this matter, we urge that a moratorium be placed over the talks with Hydro-Quebec andQuebec, until the Eeyouch have reaffirmed our full control of the resources over the full extent of Eeyou Istchee in a declaration as proposed last summer at the General Assembly in Ouje-Bougoumou. As you know, this was a follow-up statement to the results of the 1995/96 Eeyou Istchee Commission public process which called for Cree control of the land, water and other resources within Eeyou Istchee.
The federal negotiations are another issue that we feel merit careful attention and scrutiny. We received a delegation of the Cree federal negotiations team under the direction of Dr. Ted Moses in Whampagoostui recently. While there is clearly an effort underway to ensure that Cree priorities are at the centre of this process, we need to know that this really be the way these negotiations are going to be done. We want to be assured that when there is a proposal for a new relationship, our negotiators will be mandated to ensure that there will be no eventual abolition of our rights, and that we will go forwards rather than backwards.
Like the Quebec negotiations, any absence at this point in time of a comprehensive set of principles of negotiation will, if not remedied, certainly have implications on the status of Cree rights and freedoms over the long-term. We state this as we are well aware of the process undertaken by the federal government via DIAND with respect to the Manitoba Flood Agreement which resembles the JBNQA in context, spirit and intent. As you probably know, over the years DIAND has systematically and successfully gained ground in having the government’s obligations signed off by the beneficiaries of that agreement. When this happens, the benefits that future generations are entitled to under the agreement are taken away. Thus, the government gets closest to succeeding in promoting total assimilation of the concerned Native populations into the Canadian mainstream political systems. The question, therefore, is: Do we really want in any way to head in this direction?
With regard to these negotiations, we need to be sure that our overall strategy, again, is strong andconsistent with our fundamental goals as a nation to be self-governing. We seem to always be agreeableto “playing along” toward our own demise as a people by entering into agreements that compromise Creerights. We must be sure at this time that our “negotiations” do not contribute to this.
This needs careful attention.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement as a Treaty?
For many years now, the Cree Nation leadership has talked about revisiting the JBNQA. This has not happened. As a legal and political instrument that sets out our present relationships with governments and their agencies, the Whapmagoostui First Nation has the following problems with it:
First, the Native parties are forced to recognize not only the jurisdiction of the provincial government over our territory and over the resources therein, but we are also forced to recognize that of the crown corporations such as Hydro-Quebec, SDBJ, SEBJ, among others. Secondly, since the JBNQA is simply an administrative arrangement between the Native parties and governments, it does not, in our view, meet the status of a nation-to-nation treaty. Although the courts seem to recognize it as such, the Cree Nation should not, and for many reasons. We believe that our treaty rights (if we can use the term) under the J BNQA are in need of a fundamental change. The only way to do this is to declare ourselves as a people and in our own language as previously stated.
With respect to status of the JBNQA, the WFN sees the agreement, because of its ambiguous nature, as a way for government to eventually do away with our rights and the long-term benefits that our future generations would be entitled to – as is presently being done (by the same people we are negotiating with) with respect to the Manitoba Flood Agreement out west.
We, therefore, urge that a thorough review of the agreement in all of its provisions be undertaken by the Crees as soon as possible, and in accordance with Cree values. This review should strictly be internal to the Cree Nation. Only then (if the result of such a review is satisfactory to the Cree Nation) should it be entered into with the other parties to the agreement. The work involved in this regard should begin immediately.
In addition to the concerns mentioned up to this point in this letter, we would also like to point out other matters that threaten Cree rights over Eeyou Istchee over time. These are: the proposed establishment of national parks in the territory, development centres, regional ski-doo races (Harricana, etc.), and the like. Many of these come in the guise of invitations to Cree parties to participate and even invest in economic development projects in the territory, including mining and forestry. All of these and more are promoted to benefit non-Crees. These matters do pose a danger to Cree rights and may limit our opportunity to taking full control of Eeyou Istchee over the long-term, as this has been the experience of Native peoples in other parts of North America. .
An Overview of the Issues at Hand
It is our view that an underlying issue with respect to the matters raised here is: Negotiation vs. Nation-building. We wish to clarify our point on this matter.
“Negotiation” in our view can often imply that we must give up in order to receive. In the context ofthe present negotiation, we are agreeing (though perhaps with strict reservation) to the terms andconditions as set forth in the JBNQA, including extinguishment. However, despite our claim that ourrights were never extinguished, the