There exists the possibility of Cree self-government within five years. We will be looking at Cree governance that reflects our values, culture and way of life. The tentative agreement recently negotiated with the federal government (which still must be ratified in a referendum) finally recognizes the Grand Council as a regional government, with a plethora of new powers to add substance to the stature.
Some of this Cree governance will have to be accepted and approved by the federal government, however.
With that in mind I would like to point out that the roots of Cree and Canadian governance derive from similar roots. Many Cree and non-Cree alike may find this idea to be ridiculous.
I remember Richard Le Hir, then a Hydro-Quebec spokesman, saying that he would be willing to learn from First Nations if he thought he had anything to learn from them. He questioned whether they even had civilizations. This, is a more common assumption than many would believe. The view that First Nations were more primitive than the colonizers is not a new one and is one of the underlying principles of the Manifest Destiny crowd.
In truth, if you look at the roots of western civilization you inevitably come to the Greeks, who, the history books tell us, established the principles of democracy.
In those days, the states of Greece, such as Athens and Sparta, were no larger than small towns or the equivalent in size of six city blocks. The populations were at most 3,000 or so and they were very much like Cree communities of old. For example, bragging of your hunting abilities in Cree society was frowned upon. In Greece, it was the same as if a man bragged he could stand on one leg longer than any other: he was driven away as any goose could beat him at that. So at the same time as moderation was practiced so was the acknowledgment that other species had their own superior abilities in both societies.
Crees recognized no master over themselves but the tallyman in their own territories. Just as the Greeks ensured that everyone had a say in affairs of day-to-day life so did the Crees. In both societies, everyone knew everyone else and were familiar with the animals and land around them. In all they did, their efforts were judged by those around them, as even they strived to better life for all those in their respective communities.
As with Cree chiefs of old, each Greek community would elect a chairman whose duty it was to ensure everyone had a chance to express their views.
Mistakes were made in an evolving society. Look at the example of Greek lawyer Draco. He was asked to provide a set of laws for the Greeks but they were so harsh they could not be put into effect. This is where the term Draconian derives from. Another Greek, Solon, offered a code of laws that reflected the will of the people.
In the past, Cree custom and laws reflected the will of the people and even today are being translated into by-laws and custom as needed. New agreements the Crees entered into have at times changed traditional methods and custom of the Cree. In this learning process mistakes have been made but great accomplishments have been realized as well. Such things show the Cree form a vibrant and growing nation which knows that the rule of survival is in not being frozen in time.
From Rome, another forefather of western “civilization,” the word Senate is derived from the senex, meaning an old man. So, even in Rome the Elders were respected and an important part of governance.
Far from having no “civilization,” Cree have roots that are quite similar to the foundations of western “civilization” in terms of governance. This, in itself, shows that as a people and a nation, the Cree have a right to decide the form of their own governance and as such it must be on their own terms and desires.