This year’s Annual General Assembly of the Grand Council of the Crees (the 35th edition) and the Cree Regional Authority (32nd), held August 11-13, was unusual in a number of respects. For starters, it was perhaps the first time in the history of the AGA that it actually finished on time. Usually they go far past the schedule to finish in the wee hours of the morning.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come was happy about this as he was looking forward to seeing his first grandchild. “My first grandchild was born on August 2, 2010,” he said proudly. “Her name is Ayriah Valentina Coon Come. She was 7 pounds and 7 ounces. She is the daughter of Ryan Job Coon Come and Erica Fisher.”
While this may have helped prompt delegates to ensure things ended on time this didn’t mean less work was completed.
Coon Come gave presentations on the usual suspects, entities such as Cree Nation Trust, Cree School Board, Cree Health Board, Cree Trappers Association, Board of Compensation as well as Creeco and its’ subsidiaries. He also spoke about Cree governance (three separate negotiations involving Quebec, Canada and Cree internal processes) as well as a Cree Plan Nord.
But Coon Come also gave delegates a flash of his famous sense of humour after the keynote address by climate change expert Steven Guilbeault, who spoke about possible doom-and-gloom scenarios and warned coastal communities would be under water if the ice caps melted. As a thank-you gift, Coon Come presented him with a set of snowshoes on behalf of the Cree Nation, saying this showed the Crees still had faith that in 20 years they would still be walking on snow.
As expected, Coon Come brought up the Municipalité de Baie James (MBJ) as one of the problem areas in the Cree-Quebec process. He said Bill 40 is unacceptable because it changed the governing structure of MBJ from one that is controlled by Quebec to a non-representative municipal council. Coon come said it excludes Cree from the governance of Eeyou Istchee, marginalizes Crees, erodes the nation-to-nation relationship, the law was adopted without Cree consent and is in violation of Cree treaty rights under the JBNQA and attempts to resolve this issue have been unsuccessful. Coon Come also brought up the concerns of Chisasibi Cree hunters who were being charged with firearms violations by MBJ while hunting on Category III lands.
The Grand Chief said he spoke with Quebec Premier Jean Charest about the problems, warning him that the Cree-Quebec relationship was being undermined and some actions could be interpreted as intentionally hostile by the Quebec bureaucracy. Coon Come said he extended to Charest a renewed hand of friendship and partnership. But he also said Crees must protect their treaty rights and Bill 40 must be replaced by new legislation. A special high level negotiation process under the Paix des braves Standing Liaison Committee was proposed. Charest accepted and appointed Judge Rene Dussault to represent Quebec and stressed the need to think outside the box.
Coon Come and the Grand Council have taken Charest at his word. They have developed a “Cree approach of incremental consolidation of jurisdiction” over Eeyou Istchee.
The proposal includes:
a) extending Category I lands to include Category II lands;
b) that this will include ownership of natural resources and jurisdiction of the expanded lands;
c) in Category III lands a public government voted upon by both Cree and non-Aboriginal residents (i.e., Chibougamau and other municipalities);
d) this government to be determined by representation based on population;
e) jurisdiction to this government to be negotiated; and,
f) an adjustment of boundaries to follow Cree family traditional territories.
When this proposal was tabled in April 2010, the Quebec negotiator said it went beyond his mandate. Coon Come said Quebec is currently analyzing it and will get back to the Quebec Grand Council negotiator Abel Bosum.
Coon Come has met with Minister Pierre Corbeil to say the Crees were looking at long-term solutions as this was needed to ensure viable economic development of Eeyou Istchee and all its inhabitants. Coon Come also requested a meeting with Charest to explain the Cree proposal.
Coon Come expects there will be concerns on both sides during such an ambitious undertaking but feels all concerns can be dealt with to the benefit of all.
As a last resort, he said the Crees’ legal counsel is prepared to proceed with a legal challenge should this become necessary.
During one of Coon Come’s presentations, Nation photographer and writer Neil Diamond happened to be taking a picture when the Grand Chief joked that he had to pause to pose for the Nation. Coon come went on to say he was impressed with all that Diamond had accomplished with film and video. While Coon Come admitted that he didn’t agree with all of Neil’s work, he said it promoted an image of the Crees and their way of life and that this was good. Coon Come recounted how impressed he had been after watching Diamond’s recent film Reel Injun on an Air Canada flight. He noticed Diamond had interviewed Clint Eastwood, which prompted a story about the time John Wayne had come to Mistissini to go hunting. Wayne was told to shoot at a caribou and while he was good at killing Indians on film he had a hard time with live-action shots, missing twice on the caribou.
Coon Come said the Cree-Canada political dialogue has been a long one, spanning 35 years. Still to be completed is the full implementation of the responsibilities and powers of the JBNQA, assuming both certain Canadian and Quebec responsibilities under the JBNQA, adopting new CRA powers, finalizing the internal reorganization of the CRA and assuming additional federal responsibilities.
As well, with the new relationship agreement there is the Cree Governance Agreement to consider, governance legislation and potential amendments to the JBNQA. To see this happen the GCCEI looks to build on the CRA to build a legislative council. This includes the operation of the Cree Nation Government and the development of a Cree Nation Constitution. Some of the internal work will carried out through the Cree Nation Governance Working Group headed up by coordinator William Mianscum.
The Cree Plan Nord initiative concerns the sustainable development of the North. This is a 25-year plan with discussion groups on a number of issues, including access to the territory and transport, bio-food, community development, culture and identity, education, energy, forestry, housing and health, mines, tourism and wildlife. Abel Bosum will be coordinating the working group. A Cree member sits at each table in order to maximize Cree benefits while managing possible challenges of the Plan Nord. It is stressed that the Plan Nord means new sources of funding for the Crees.
Washaw Sibi Chief Billy Katapatuk Sr. gave an update on the plan to build a physical community for his people. To minimize costs they have decided to locate the village within the municipal boundaries of Amos. By taking advantage of existing infrastructure and sharing services Katapatuk said they would not only reduce the initial costs of creating a new village infrastructure but would also reduce the on-going operating costs. He thanked the Grand Council and the CRA for their support and assistance to date.
On a less serious note, Katapatuk’s son Billy Jr. won the skeet-shooting contest on Wednesday. He scored 3 out of 5 on the first round and then 3 out of 3 on the second round to win a $150 gift card from Hockey Expert. Three chiefs stepped up to do some shooting: Billy Katapatuk, Steve Diamond and Stanley George. John Matoush was the only deputy chief besides Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iseroff to shoot that day. Youth Grand Chief Stacy Bear gave the contest a shot along with the 37 in total to pick up a shotgun that day. Norman Wapachee, local coordinator for the AGA, said he enjoyed having that many people from so many different communities come out for this event.
Despite the fun mood, the AGA still hosted a few sharp challenges to Cree decision-makers. George Snowboy of Chisasibi asked why there was a lack of resources and opportunities for Crees to start outfitting operations. “There’s lots of non-residents/non-Crees coming in and starting up operations. We should be doing this before there is no room for us,” he said. Snowboy recounted getting his first moose. “I was driving a bus with about 40 people on it when I saw it. I stopped the bus and shot it. We were a little late in arriving,” he said to laughter.
And yet, in some ways this was one of the more consensus-forming annual general assemblies that I have attended over the past three decades. Kenneth Tanoush talked about the current system of Cree government locally and regionally as being old in some areas. He said things are different from when they were first looked at back in the 1970s. He said then we got away from INAC but we just used the same model and it’s time for an overview and review of how we do things. There are more efficient ways to govern and we should adapt. He said that as a young person he wants a say in how things are done. “I want to encourage the youth that you are going to change our government system and its policies and laws,” said Tanoush.
If Tanoush expected opposition he was in for a surprise when Cree Naskapi Commission member Robert Kanatewat got up to speak. He said we have to decide where to begin and to know where we are now. “What are we going to prepare for our future generations? Young people need to be involved because it was young people who started the fight over 30 years ago,” said Kanatewat. He said he had tremendous respect for the people who got us where Crees are today but that, “It’s up to the young people to carry the load. I don’t worry that they would be able to carry that load because they know it’s for the sake of the Cree Nation.”
Kanatewat said he envisions a governance process that would start with a tour of all Cree communities to explain the different options and ideas. A special meeting in each community would follow. Finally, a special general assembly would be called to finalize matters.
I urge everyone to go through the draft resolutions. While these aren’t the final wording it will give you an idea of the interesting things in store for the Crees. One of the interesting subjects is the Freedom of Religion or Rite resolution. I believe this is the first of its kind in Eeyou Istchee. Culture played a big part in this year’s AGA from the resolutions, consensus building, traditional food and Crees being Crees. We can all hope this trend continues to grow and become a part of our daily lives.
These are working drafts of the resolutions passed at the 2010 AGA. Final copies can be requested from the Grand Council of the Crees.