…As I was saying. It’s better to be paranoid than sorry.
September 11 had everyone asking, where were you when…? For the Cree(p)s, another event deserved the question: Where were you when the Chiefs signed the Agreement in principle?
I was puttering around my apartment when the phone started vibrating like crazy. “Did you hear?!?,” the voice asked. “It’s on TV right now, live.” I fear cable and satellite TV so I was forced to listen to the signing ceremony over the phone.
The line had been drawn. Are you for it or are you against it?
From the shadows I’ve been trying to piece together what happened in the weeks before the signing of the AIP.
First I heard only three people knew about it. Eastmain’s Dr. Ted Moses, OJ’s Abel Bosum, Rookie Cree negotiator and lawyer for the Cree, Robert Mainville (isn’t he a Doctor yet?). My sources forgot to mention Premier Bernard Landry and two or three of his elves.
Landry found notoriety the night of the last referendum for berating an employee at a hotel in Montreal, accusing the poor Latin American Canadian and other “ethnics” and rich Anglos of killing a Québécois victory. Several years later, he was awarded the premiership.
By the time you read this, our chiefs will have finished their sales/consultation tour on the controversial AIP. If you missed Chiefs Tour 2001 you were either hiding out in a cave or in the bush because everyone who could be there was there.
The extravaganza was brought to us by the Quebec Government. The same people who brought us the very popular JBNQA. 1975 was a long time ago and it took them this long to bring us the new and improved Agreement. Or, JBNQA Too.
Scratch that. They did have another offering not that long ago in Waskaganish, where their show bombed. Their star was humiliated when he was practically forced to paddle a canoe clear across a gymnasium floor while a parade of canoeists held their paddles aloft, ready to wield them as punishment. Thierry Vandal was laughed out of town that night. The reviews the next day cried out, “Cree leaders are forbidden to stage any more shows starring anyone from HQ entertainment.” Or something like that.
The tour started in Waskaganish. Why the Skag? I asked myself the same question. It’s not the most glamourous of the nine communities. It barely has a night life. Of course, Waskaganish will be most affected by this. And wasn’t Waskaganish supposed to the first James Bay Project? Three major rivers still flow by Waskaganish, the Rupert, Broadback and the Nottaway. You can still, if you chose, get to almost anywhere in the world from Waskaganish by canoe. And imagine the incredible amount of power you can generate from three rivers. You probably wouldn’t have to build any more dams for a long while if you had them there. But let’s not give them any more ideas.
The second stop was Mistissini. The gymnasium was packed at ten a.m. Will says the notice must have said 8 a.m. A rough count said 200 Crees. The Chiefs brought out their bells and whistles in the form of a Powerpoint rundown of the AIP. Most people voiced what they felt when they first heard the news – shock, anger and betrayal. Some felt extreme gratitude and thanked God for Ted.
Mistissini had interesting questions and more people who spoke against the deal. Waswanipi fawned with an overwhelming yes. Nemaska lashed back with an angry and hurt No! Chisasibi was quietly split. Whapmagoostui was given a perfunctory audience.
And so it went through the five communities I visited with Doctor Ted’s Travelling Show. I heard from the chiefs themselves that reaction in OJ, Eastmain and Wemindji was “good.” People’s two main concerns were the money and the river. Many asked why it was done in secrecy or why it was done at all. Reasons given were: “The lower ministers would have killed it. The press would have had an orgy.” We haven’t yet but if the government is willing to cover costs…
Some comments: “We should ask for some category 3 land back.” “I have a bad feeling about this.” “We should ask for a down payment of 1.5 billion dollars as insurance.” “You (the Chiefs) remind me of Hydro Quebec!” Some wit pulled me aside with a note that said, “Trick or Treat?”
The dreaded O word was brought up more times than there are letters in Osama. The Grand chief stated that the events of Black Tuesday brought a change in Cree Quebec relations. “We have to stop fighting…” said Ted. Hey, that rhymes, “said Ted.” He was talking about our 20-something court cases against Quebec, Ottawa, and whoever else we don’t like. That’s the deal, we drop every single court case in exchange for 3.5 or 3.8 billion. The court cases could win the greedy Cree that same amount. But the lawyers don’t seem so confident in winning. It’s the easy way out. Some wise ass asked during a smoke break, “Since when did fighting in the courts become Osamist?” The chiefs believe in this Agreement. They had a full three days to ponder its mysteries from when they were first informed ’til when they all agreed. That’s a lot of thinking on something that will affect every single Cree for 50 years and beyond. I barely think of what I’m going to be doing with my day when I first get dragged kicking and screaming from my bed in the morning.
It’s been said that this is the most divided, rubberarmed, and spineless collection of chiefs ever voted in by the Cree people. I didn’t say that. It’s just my job to inform you. We better think as fast as they did because we only have a month before it comes down to the wire friends.