No one can deny it has been a hectic past two weeks with the recent announcement of the Agreement-in-Principle between the Crees and the Quebec Government. Some people have been crying savior while others say sell-out. No matter what you think it is a historic occasion that requires a lot of thinking by Crees on whether or not to accept the deal. In this issue we asked four Crees to talk about the deal; Grand Chief Ted Moses, Former Grand Chief Billy Diamond, National Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and youth Grand Chief Ashley Iseroff. Hopefully some of your questions will be answered. The next issue will carry an in depth analysis of what it means to the Crees: potential benefits and potential consequences.

Grand Chief Ted Moses

The Nation: Why would you say this agreement is good for the Crees?

Grand Chief Ted Moses: I would say this is good for the Crees because it resolves all past disputes which now have gone and were about to be heard by the courts. You have to use your own resources to fight and the governments haven’t made a move to resolve them. It’s resolving past issues. There are some fundamental gains like you get to participate in resources being extracted from Eeyou Istchee. We have the opportunity to participate in the development of the territory, not just in our communities. We can participate in partnership with Quebec companies and with each other. We would have the resources to do that. We can develop at own pace without interference from Quebec, without asking Quebec how we should develop our economies and our communities. That is a big thing. We now have the autonomy to do that.

We still have to get give audit and financial reports. What’s to stop them from saying we’re not giving you money because you’re not spending it the way you should?

Well, like most of us whether or not we have an agreement we have to spend our money wisely. I think that’s a principle that applies to the Crees. We’ve gotten used to in the past 25 years of submitting financial statements to the governments. We’ve demonstrated we can spend the money on what it has been intended for.

What do we gain out of this agreement?

We’ve gained the resources, which will allow us to develop at our own pace, which we don’t have now. Anything you want to do you need money no matter what. No one can convince me that in this day of modernization you don’t need money to go anywhere. I look at it as a tool to enable us to do all the things I mentioned previously.

What do we lose in the agreement?

I don’t think we lose much. It would be safe to say we don’t lose anything. We don’t lose any of the Cree rights. The rights are maintained. The other provisions are maintained with the exception of the economic and community development and this is just for the duration of the Agreement and then it will be reinstated. All we are saying is that instead of Quebec doing it we’ll do it ourselves and use the resources to do that.

What about the Rupert’s River?

Sure, there’s a Rupert’s River diversion. There will be one and it definitely means that parts of the river will be dried up in the case of Eastmain River. There will be some flooded traplines in Eastmain, Nemaska and Mistissini but the rest of the territory will be pretty much intact. Broadback and Nottaway will not be developed and we make no mention of Whapmagoostui but it’s not slated for development.

What do you see Crees doing with the money we’ll be getting?

We’ll definitely begin to address immediate needs. That’s what we’ll have to do when we establish our own priorities. The Youth definitely need jobs. We’ll have to look at innovative ways on

how we can do that. We will meet that objective using the resources we’ll have. We have monies for infrastructure because that would be Quebec’s contribution. We’re not saying that Canada’s obligations are finished here either but we could look at housing. We can put money where we want to focus and the needs arise. We have big needs in different areas that have to be addressed.

How did the Agreement come about?

It’s a combination of many things, past efforts, the Cree campaigns and statements. The fact that we have close to 30 legal proceedings that have been filed. The fact that we are in court on forestry, which has been perceived as a threat. Campaigns in the states and Cree participation in international forums. It’s a combination of the efforts of everyone in the past 20 to 25 years to implement the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The differences between the Crees and Quebec was getting wider and we live in the same province.

We showed we’d rather negotiate than litigate. We want results rather than an ongoing fight. My meetings with Premier Laundry talked about development, whether we consider ourselves a nation and my feelings about revenue sharing and partnership. Whether the Cree and Quebec can coexist came up. I think the events of September 11th played a role in showing we live in a really small world. We cannot let our differences divide us forever.

When did you start negotiations?

Exploratory discussions started about six weeks ago to test the waters. The real negotiations started two weeks prior to me announcing it to the chiefs. It was at a very high level with the premier and myself. We each had another person to balance things out. It was a very small group where we agreed to respect certain rules and conditions. It started after I asked that Quebec appoint a negotiator at a high level directly under the Premier. A no nonsense type of negotiations. They saw we wanted to resolve forestry and Quebec wanted to develop the north. They saw that they could not go further with development with the way things stood. So after some reflection Quebec called the Cree negotiator and started some discussions. Things began to unfold and events began to happen very, very rapidly. At the political will the Premier and myself were the top negotiators. The fundamental principles were laid done by us and the day-to-day negotiations were done by a couple of people on each side.

What were the hardest part of the negotiations?

I think the hardest part was determining whether we could resolve these disputes. It was a question of political will and putting the past behind us. We cannot always relive that; let’s go for something new and innovative that will be result oriented. This is opposed to an ongoing process that had very little results.

How’s the Agreement good for Quebec?

It means we have to co-exist. We’re permanent residents in Eeyou Istchee and we know the people of Quebec are not going to move. If we’re going to co-exist we have to put aside our differences and stop fighting. We have to find ways to accommodate each other where both sides benefit. We didn’t want a situation where it’s one at the expense of the other because Aboriginal people throughout the world have been subject to marginalization, neglect and exclusion. I did not want to see that continue forever for the Crees so we had to do something.

Why the Secrecy?

That was part of the rules. We didn’t want news to get out before we even concluded whether or not there was anything solid. For me to go back to my people with just a verbal offer wasn’t acceptable. This is a news-breaking story and we could see where people might give it their own twist before anything concrete came out of it. We were concerned with hardliners in the Government of Canada who believe the Crees shouldn’t get anything more. We were concerned with the reaction of the public as well as the opposition in the National Assembly. We were concerned with the response of the Federal Government as the third party to the JBNQA. They aren’t a part of this deal. Rather than leave the doors open to people scuttling it by whatever means we opted to make the talks secret. It you want to get your work done and concluded then you have to make sure that you have the opportunity to do so.

How will “Cree consent” be given and what does it mean in your opinion?

Cree consent will come about as part of the final agreement in which the Cree people will

Have an opportunity to say yes or no. If they say no then there is no deal. If they say yes then I will have a mandate to sign the agreement. Then we’ll have a final agreement with Quebec. So it’s a question of allowing the people to answer that question.

Do you think the Cree Chiefs have the right to sign the deal?

Definitely. It’s part of being a leader and we always have ambitions of bringing back something to our communities. To be able to tell them we are bringing this back for your benefit and we can do things with that. There’s been so many meetings where we have come back empty handed.

We have responsibilities as a leader otherwise why are you chosen as a leader if you have to run back every time a decision is needed. Leaders are decision-makers.

Some Crees are calling for a referendum. Are you in favor of that?

I have no problem with that. We haven’t discussed among ourselves in what form the decision will be made. That’s something that will be decided on in the next few weeks. We hear people wanting a referendum. Some people have said all 13,000 and so odd people should vote on this but we have to be realistic. We have to think with our heads. Those people who are capable of that will have to draw a line. Consultation will be done. We are doing that already.

Would you be willing to put the same type of resources and effort that went into the Cree referendum during Quebec’s secession referendum?

The Quebec referendum was a different issue, an emotional issue with big consequences. It’s not the issue of the day. It’s a non-starter. If we had that on the table we’d still be spinning our wheels. We will find ways. We’re spending time in the communities and there will be consultations for the conclusion of the agreement and even after the agreement.

Do you think the agreement diminishes Cree rights in any way?

Definitely not. It does not affect the other provisions of the agreement. The land regime is still intact, the hunting fishing, trapping, the income security will still continue, the education, they are not affected with this. In fact Quebec says they will not take the CSB to the Supreme Court. That’s a big concession. Health services will continue. They’ve agreed to negotiations for the improvement of health services. Environmental continues. Development will subject to the social and environmental section under the JBNQA. We gain certain things so rights have not been affected. Whatever rights we wanted to deal with in the court cases, well, we’re going to put them aside for right now. If we need to argue them then we can take them off the shelf and argue them. So we’re not giving up right or agreeing to extinguish any of them. We haven’t released the government of Canada from its obligations. Even though we’re withdrawing the court cases as far as Canada is concerned they still apply.

It enhances and reinforces Cree rights in the sense that you’re viewed as a participant and as a partner rather than an adversary that is confined to your village.

There’s a great level of trust involved in this. The JBNQA and MOU’s of 95 and 98 were unimplemented as well as others. How do you reconcile this?

We’ve demonstrated political will to resolve our differences. The agreement in principle clearly demonstrates that. We don’t have to be enemies necessarily all the time. You can establish new relationships and become friends. That’s better for both sides.

Why the rush?

We’re not rushing. It’s the end of December and that’s the time we feel we need to conclude it. The longer we talk the more time there is for circumstances to go beyond your control. There could be elections and nothing happens so you won’t have a final agreement. A new government could mean no deal and no chance for another deal. We have to look at what is in front of us and ask what is in our best interests. We think we can do it.

“I won’t sell the land for any price.” That was one of your campaign quotes. What do you say to that?

Billy Diamond, when he was Grand Chief in 1974, quoted the late Martin Hunter: “This land is not for sale even for millions and millions of dollars.” And we have the JBNQA. It is not to say we have sold the land and it is someone else’s property that you cannot go on. We’re going to be there in Eeyou Istchee and we are going to be there as partners. If people want to take advantage of tourism opportunities, then that will be possible. If people want to establish companies that will create jobs then that is possible. If you want to invest in an opportunity, then it’s possible. You cannot do that if you sold the land and it is the private property of someone else.

You also said you wouldn’t sign anything without consulting the people. The implications were that you would be a more open Cree government so some people are angry about that saying you weren’t open. How do you feel about that?

We’ve been open. We’ve met in the Cree communities and the meetings have been open to the public. We have in camera sessions when we deem fit. People and entities can attend the meeting. I did not sign an agreement without consulting my people. I consulted the Cree chiefs. I satisfied myself of their complete support when all nine agreed at the council/board to adopt by way of resolution what I did. At that level that is the type of consultation you have to have. I satisfied my campaign promise as to that. It’s the people who will give the chiefs and council the mandate who will in turn give me the mandate to sign. With that I have fulfilled my campaign promise.

Is there anything you want to add?

On a final note I would like to say it is an opportunity. As much as it is seen as an emotional issue, for me it was difficult, I have a trapline and this decision will affect my family. I thought about these issues and came to grips with myself. While I was out in the bush I convinced myself I now have to think with the wisdom that God, the Creator gave me, not with my heart. I shouldn’t let the emotions at the time supercede the wisdom that I have in regards to the vision I have for the future. I had to come to terms with some issues. I asked myself, “Are you ready and willing to resolve the disputes you have with Quebec even though there are certain things that will be extremely difficult to accept by certain people? Will you take the easy way out and continue to use Cree resources and fight and which may not benefit my people and deprive them of the right to develop and benefit and improve the quality of life for the whole Cree Nation.” I’ve come to the conclusion with the wisdom I have that I’ll take that bold step to resolve these disputes rather than continuing the fight. In the long run if people agree and support it they will find that it is a good decision, as opposed to saying no. I’d like people to think about that as much as it may hurt. Take a few days to reflect on it and arrive at an intelligent decision.

Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

The Nation: What were your first thoughts when you heard an agreement had been struck?

Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff: I had mixed feelings right away. When you deal with Quebec, you know about all the unfulfilled obligations in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. You know they made a commitment there and 25 years past we get nothing out of over 300 unfulfilled obligations. They define this agreement as being a new relationship. Obviously there are going to be concerns because we fought so hard to get the things we were promised.

Were you surprised to learn these negotiations were taking place?

Yes, we were all surprised. Everyone was affected by what happened on the 11th of September, but I didn’t think it would go to this extent. At first I thought maybe it was a minor side agreement on forestry, but it ended up being a global settlement.

There are several ambiguities and areas left to be negotiated. Do you fear people are being asked to make a judgment on the agreement with so many questions left unanswered?

The problem I have is people are giving a rosy picture to the agreement. People have to read the agreement in order to understand it. There a lot of things that we’re giving up here in terms of how we deal with our land. It’s so hard to comprehend that people would go ahead and get into discussions with Quebec. It makes me wonder: Are we giving up on so many things we fought for so hard for? And now we’re being looked at from all over the world with mixed reactions. We made a lot of friends when we spoke against hydro development because of the mass destruction that would happen in our own backyards. Now, the Cree leadership gives its consent to a hydroelectric dam. Even the role and responsibilities of the tallyman: the tallymen were not even consulted before this agreement in principle was signed. The tallymen and many families are going to be greatly affected by these potential projects.

How does agreement affect your constituency among the Cree youth?

It’s going to affect our generation and our future generations. We feel we have to speak on their behalf because if we don’t, who will? Each time we speak to our elders they tell us, “You’ve got to protect your way of life.” With the land, that’s where you get your culture, your language and your strength. Things come out of the land, and now it’s at stake. A lot of people enjoy hunting, fishing and trapping – and all that’s at stake because of the potential for poisons entering the water system and the surrounding habitat. You’ve heard the story of Ouje-Bougamou two weeks ago in regard to the mining development there. Now there’s a lot of toxins in their water. Quebec only admitted this after the signing of the agreement in principle. The question arises again: Can we trust them? How many more hidden things are there that we’re not aware of? Why are cancer rates going so high in the communities? These are questions you have to raise.

Ted Moses says we can’t roll back modernization and that we have to make our peace with Quebec. How do you respond?

That’s a hard question. For me, we’re dealing with a sovereignist government. They have an agenda to separate from Canada. The same government said a few years ago they would use all force against the Crees if we were to stand against separatism back in 1995. And now we’re agreeing to their terms? They say we have a new relationship. You wonder whether it is a real relationship.

Would you be in favour of continuing trying to protect Cree rights by means of the legal system?

That’s another question for me, if we could live with that. The court cases could have gone on for years, we are told. We don’t know when they would ever come to a judgment. But I think there should have been other means of negotiating.

Do you think Ted Moses had the democratic mandate to enter into these negotiations?

I remember a resolution that was passed in 2000 at the annual general assembly where Cree leaders were told not to surrender any rights. I believe somehow the rights of fishers and trappers are going to be affected by this. The right of going out to the land and going hunting and fishing is going to be greatly affected. It’s going to be the devastating effects of the mining, the logging, mercury poisoning and whatever else comes with the development.

But wouldn’t there at least be more jobs for people?

You have to analyze the true amounts that are committed. Quebec is handing down responsibilities that they were supposed to run. We have to fund, through that $70 million, various regional organizations. I think it’s yet to be determined how that will be divided among the communities. Our population will likely double over 25 years. Is $70 million enough to create jobs? Well, how many, and where?

What are you telling people in your discussions of this? Do you say we should oppose this? Negotiate further? How do you approach it?

For me, there has to be more transparent discussions. Two months is a very short time. A lot of our people are still out in the bush and can’t come to the meetings that are taking place right now. Even the students down south – they’re greatly affected by it. I’ve gotten a number of calls from students going to school in the south and they’re very concerned. One student said, “I feel betrayed. All the things we fought for and thinking that the river would be there for all time and now consent has been given to go ahead on the project.” I don’t know how greatly Mistissini Lake will be affected. I’m hearing rumours that the lake will rise up to six feet. Will that have an effect on the fish and the habitat around the lake? Definitely there will be. These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. Is it really a fair deal? I don’t know how many billions they take out of Eeyou Istchee each year, but we’re being told we’ll get 1.75 per cent on an annual basis.

If you were to speak to Ted Moses about this, what would you tell him?

There’s a lot of concern out there. We really need to discuss this. The question I have all the time is, how can 20 people decide on behalf of the Cree nation what the devastating effects 15 or 20 years down the road all this will have on people? Do you think this agreement is really going to help us? Or will the same thing happen as with the JBNQA? Quebec reserves the right to suspend funding if the audits are not done the way they want to see them. So there are a lot of questions.

Will you be pushing for a referendum?

I don’t know. I’d have to listen to the people and hear what their feelings on it are.

What are people telling you so far?

There are a lot of questions, especially from the young people. Twenty-five years ago, people weren’t highly educated. Now we have a lot of young people who are highly educated. They know what questions to ask. A lot of them studied economics. A lot of them studied law. And a lot have studied political science. They have studied the structures of how governments operate. Now we have that knowledge. We have those youth who can ask questions and they’re asking them right now. There are several questions that need to be answered. And nobody seems to be able to answer them yet.

National Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come

The Nation: I see that you are putting your support behind the Agreement. What do you like about it?

National Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come: I’ve been chief and the Grand Chief for most of those years and the Coon Come case that dealt with obligations of the federal and provincial governments, the forestry court cases and the court case we launched against the technical description of the La Grande project of 1975 where we said it required Cree consent and the projects couldn’t go through. When we went to the communities and I was the one who explained the court cases on forestry, Great Whale and NBR, on the outstanding and unfulfilled obligations of the federal and provincial governments we told the people the reason we were going to court was because the governments felt they fulfilled their obligations and they didn’t feel they needed to sit down with us and talk. Our strategy was to use the legal system so the courts would recognize the unfulfilled obligations of the governments. We knew the courts wouldn’t say this is how much you should get but that it would have to be negotiated. All the cases were to say you needed Cree consent and involvement. That was the message. We needed to convey the message that we want a share of the resources extracted from Cree land. That’s the background.

The Agreement in Principle, as outlined to me, shows that Grand Chief Ted Moses has taken the initiative and the timing was right. I must commend him for his efforts. The same with Premier Laundry for realizing that he has to involve the Crees. Certainly the Agreement from the outset provides some form of resource revenue sharing and it looks at employment opportunities. It deals with issues we have all been talking about. That we want to participate in the economy. I remember a person told me and said one truckload of forestry logs is worth $100,000 and not a penny goes to us. That told me they want a share in the resource extraction. I think some of the principles are there.

One of the greatest challenges for leaders is that they have to know when to fight and you have to know when to sign a deal.

I think that Ted signed at the right time. Now it’s up to the Cree people to give their decision on whether they will accept it or not.

All of us will have to assess it in terms of our previous involvement in previous projects. When I was involved between 1987 and 1995 in opposition to projects where they were going to flood eight rivers, now because of the Rupert’s and Eastmain rivers, they are talking about maybe just one project. It is still subject to environmental impact assessment. We’ll have an opportunity to look at resource development.

In my view it’s like a hunter. He will go out and look for game. He will not come back and say I think I saw some caribou and maybe I should ask you. He will shoot it and ask his people to help him. He will say to the people this is what I got. He will say there are more out there, can you come and help me? So Ted has brought something and as a leader will say this is what I was able to get, now you decide.

As a leader you have to take a position, are you for this agreement or against it. As a leader Ted is certainly promoting it saying this is what I got and I agree in principle. It’s the same journey in the past when negotiations were done. Then Grand Chief Billy Diamond, Philip Awashish and Ted Moses, they went and sat down with the government and came back and said this is what we have. They went through a process of consultations, information meetings and debates. Then the Cree People voted on whether or not to accept the JBNQA.

Former Grand Chief Billy Diamond

The Nation: Do you find this Agreement is good for the Crees?

Former Grand Chief Billy Diamond: This Agreement in Principle is unexpected. It came out of nowhere. What I like about the agreement is that it will continue with the implementation of the JBNQA. The difficulty I have with it is including the Eastmain and particularly the Rupert’s River Diversion after all the Crees have done. There was the special Annual General Assembly in Waskaganish in June 2001. Now we’re saying in that agreement that the Crees give consent to the Rupert’s River Diversion. Giving up consent like that to me is very difficult. I have problems with the Rupert’s River Diversion because we don’t know what’s going to happen to the river. The Rupert’s River is our lifeline in Waskaganish. It is our heritage river. It is our past; it was part of the fur trade route that connected us to our Cree cousins in Nemaska, Mistissini and these types of places. It was a river that we used to come together and now we are going to divert it. That’s the hard part. We have to look at the agreement and study together to see what the consequences are.

What about the money?

The money was always there. It was hidden in the original JBNQA. What has been done in this case is to take the Quebec obligations and those obligations have been quantified. In this case the money is going to come sooner. Instead of waiting for implementation, court cases or arguing it will be sooner. In our past experience, as Crees, when money is involved and there are specific schedules, then the government has always been there with the cheque. So what we have to do is be much more specific. But it’s only a 50-year agreement so the money will be

there for 50 years and you have to be careful because we are surrendering future obligations and we have to weigh the consequences of that. You are giving up future obligations for more than just this generation. The generation in the 51st year is the ones who are going to feel the impact. In my opinion the obligations won’t be there. The lawyers say otherwise and say we’ll go back to the JBNQA. They’re taking the past and future obligations and quantifying them into dollars and receiving those dollars. Then the Crees will be implementing the obligations themselves. It will be a difference. The Crees will not be going to Quebec to complain anymore, they will be going to the Grand Council and the CRA. This worries me when you see the same people who are asking for the implementation will be at another level the people making the decision.

It’s been said that this agreement is partly the result of past negotiators such as yourself. Do you see some of what you were working towards in it?

I finally got my hands on a signed copy and have been going through it and studying it. I see the agreement going back in time to 15 or 20 years. As far back as the La Grande Agreement in 1986, there are sections that previous negotiators have been involved in. There were previous negotiations on the Eastmain River but none of them included the Rupert’s Diversion.

This is a global settlement and I feel there is a danger in that in the sense of negotiating. What happens if one party does not agree? Does that mean the agreement falls apart? It’s important that in the next round that the communities start asking questions on how we will deal with that.

Another problem I have with the Agreement, and this came out in Waskaganish, is the time frame. This is being done really fast for a such a legal and complicated agreement. To analyze and study it you need time. The agenda has been set and I wonder whose agenda we are following. Is it theirs or ours?

There have been comments from the communities about the secrecy surrounding the agreement. What do you think of it?

We asked questions in Waskaganish about who negotiated it and why now. I think that’s why you see the hostility from the young people. The youth feel very betrayed by the Cree leadership. The sense of betrayal is showing up in their anger. I have never seen meetings like since the early 70’s when the James Bay Project was announced and the information meetings after. These meetings were very emotionally charged.

The young people feel betrayed and excluded. That’s why the question of secrecy has come up. But you have to understand that in negotiations, having meeting while you are negotiating there are certain things people will say in public and there are things you will not say in public, like specific details. Still when you are working on an agreement in principle someone should have told the people we are working on an agreement with the Premier of Quebec. That’s why it shocked the people.

There’s a level of trust involved considering Quebec’s past record in upholding its end of the bargain. Do you think we can suddenly say fine, come on back, give us some money and whatnot, we trust you again?

I think that’s why there is shock right now among the Cree people. In my community people are saying why and why now? What happened to change our position? After years of Quebec bashing and confrontation. There were speeches in New York, Geneva and why this sudden switch? What convinced the Cree leadership? These are things the Cree people want to know and have answers to. I think this requires dialogue at the community level. When you hear of something like this for the first time it’s hard. It’s going to take time for this to sink in. In the meantime people are going to want answers. I mean we been hammering away and hammering away and all of sudden we’re going to stand with Quebec. I can understand wanting to develop a relationship and strategic alliance with Quebec. But what we have done in effect with this agreement in principle is to extend Quebec’s jurisdiction by allowing them to proceed with the hydro development, forestry and with mining. We end up absorbing the legal costs of all our court cases with Quebec. These were cases in which we insisted our rights were in and Quebec should implement their obligations. These questions will have to be answered at the community level.

What do you see as Cree Consent being in this case? Do you see it as just the chiefs, a community-by-community vote or a referendum?

My version of Cree consent, is the consent to the Eastmain and Rupert’s rivers diversion, is that it requires consent of the communities directly impacted. All the communities will be impacted by this I believe because the water is diverted and that particular consent should never have been given in the agreement. I said that in the meeting in Waskaganish that Cree consent has been given. You have in effect authorized Hydro-Quebec to go ahead. Our leadership disagrees with me on that.

I said that in the Agreement it says Crees hereby consent. We have agreed to disagree on this point.

I don’t think that an agreement of this magnitude should be where it’s just the chiefs who decide. The people should have time to decide on it and determine if they are happy with it.