History was made on November 7 in Oujé-Bougoumou’s Albert Mianscum Memorial Sports Complex where representatives from Canada, Quebec and Eeyou Istchee gathered to sign an amendment to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) officially recognizing Oujé-Bougoumou as the ninth Cree community.
After having been displaced many times, the community of Oujé-Bougoumou has finally closed this chapter in their history and can now move forward. They had negotiated previous settlements with the governments of Quebec and Canada in 1989 and 1992 respectively which got them the funding to construct their new location but the issue of their status wasn’t resolved until now.
This moment came as a bittersweet victory for Oujé-Bougoumou. Chief Reggie Neeposh, who has worked for this for 27 years, said, “It is somewhat sad that some of our Elders who started this are not here to witness it, but at the same time we’re happy that it finally happened.” He expressed gratitude towards the Quebec government for its efforts to work out this agreement.
The ceremonies began at the cultural centre in Oujé-Bougoumou where the three delegations met to discuss the event behind closed doors and finalize all the details. The delegates from the governments of Canada and Quebec were then given a tour of the beautifully designed community and all of its facilities.
The signing ceremony took place in the Albert Mianscum Memorial Sports Complex in front of a jubilant crowd of young and old gathered to witness this historic moment. The event began with an opening prayer conducted by former Chief and Elder Sam Bosum along with a traditional song of thanksgiving by Joshua Iserhoff.
Then one-by-one the officials spoke to the community about the agreement. First was Neeposh, who was followed by Pierre Corbeil, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is also responsible for Northern Quebec.
Minister responsible for Native Affairs Geoffrey Kelly followed and stated, “I am proud to witness this moment in Oujé-Bougoumou today.” Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan spoke afterwards about all of the hard work and progress that had been accomplished. The last two speakers were Grand Chief Mathew Coon Come and Premier Jean Charest.
With Charest in attendance, Coon Come, along with Neeposh and Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff, signed the Complementary Agreement No. 22 as did Kelley and Duncan.
Charest highlighted the fact that the JBNQA is not a “static document frozen in time” and that it will be amended if there are more injustices that need to be corrected. “More than ever, the concept of mutual respect is a vital component of our relations with the Cree Nation,” he said.
This moment has been in the making for more than 50 years and addresses the community’s years of suffering and neglect by the government. The settlement will provide a full description of the land which will form the Oujé-Bougoumou First Nation along the lines of the JBNQA as well as all the benefits that come with recognition, such as housing and development.
Coon Come spoke of the importance of the agreement. “Today represents the culmination of our long efforts to redress an injustice and to finally make right what the community of Oujé-Bougoumou should never have experienced.”
After signing, there was the customary gift-exchange ceremony. A funny moment came when Charest was waiting for his present thinking it would be snowshoes like the other minister got. But when he was told to take off his jacket, he smiled nervously making the crowd laugh as he put on a new leather vest.
It will also end the lawsuits brought by the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree before La Paix des Braves treaty with a $20 million settlement and enable the Assinica National Park to be created and protected.
Duncan said the federal government has been on a path of reconciliation with its “getting business done agenda” with the First Nations of Canada. “We have settled a lot of agreements, starting with the apology for the mistreatment in residential schools and there has been great progress made across the country.”
The Complementary Agreement will transfer 100 square kilometres of land from Quebec to Oujé-Bougoumou as well as 67 square kilometres of land will be added to the community for growth.
This agreement is a testament to the positive outcomes of cooperation between the Native, federal and provincial leaders in Canada. Neeposh summed it up best when he said, “After many years of hard work the dreams of our Elders have finally been realized.” The next generation of Oujé-Bougoumou will now always remember November 7 as a defining day for the rest of their lives.