After a long delay, the Grand Council of the Crees has signed a $20-million deal with federal Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault for basic infrastructure first promised under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Ottawa promised to release the money a year ago, but there was a catch – the Crees would have to agree that the deal fulfilled all the federal promises on infrastructure in the 1975 James Bay Agreement.

Crees refused, and the negotiations bogged down. “It took us one year to settle that,” said Bill Namagoose, the Grand Council’s executive director.

The agreement finally signed in October leaves negotiations open for future infrastructure funding. This is especially important because the Grand Council is also trying to get Ottawa to fund new homes to ease the Cree housing crisis.

The Grand Council says there is an immediate backlog of 1,400 homes, and an additional 600 will be needed within five years to meet the needs of the Cree baby boom.

All those new homes will also need lots of new infrastructure – sewage lines, water treatment and other public works.

Namagoose criticized the federal government for taking so long to settle the issue, and for pressuring First Nations to sign off on treaty rights.

He said the negotiations on basic infrastructure have been stumbling along “forever,” since before he joined the Grand Council in 1988.

To make matters worse, the federal negotiator keeps getting replaced, meaning more delays, Namagoose said. Next on the table: housing, capital funds for community facilities and band day-to-day funding.