The reactions ranged from sadness, to anger, to confusion. Some were left scratching their heads.
Many tried to figure out what was going through Billy Diamond’s mind as he trashed the Cree leadership in L’Actualité.
“Hogwash, man,” is how one Cree responded. “What a guy! I think he’s jealous of Matthew.” (The magazine hit newstands just two days after Matthew Coon Come’s election as National Chief of the AFN.)
Another long-time observer of Cree politics said, “Some people laugh at it. Others were saddened by it.”
“It was so bad you kind of feel sorry for the guy. He’s launched a racist war! He’s picked up all his friends – people he trusted and worked with — and trashed them all.”
Some took a more optimistic view, saying the article may provoke some positive debate.
“I welcome the criticism. Certainly there is a purpose for everything. You just have to flow along,” said Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash.
But Mukash cautioned, “This is the view of one person. We always get our direction from the people. We don’t go against their will.”
He added, “It’s unfortunate it had to be done through the French media. It should have been done through The Nation. It could have been made to the Grand Council, the leadership and the people.”
Mukash agreed it’s important for the Cree leadership to balance the views of non-Native professionals and consultants with the wishes of the Cree people: “We always have to go back to the people.”
At the same time, he added, “we can’t totally do away with advisors.” He noted, “When we fought Great Whale, sometimes I felt we had more support from our consultants than from some of our leaders.”
Many of the chiefs were on the road and couldn’t be reached for a comment.
One of the people Diamond targeted, long-time Cree legal advisor James O’Reilly, took a philosophical approach to the affair.
“These things happen. You have great men who become disappointed at some point in their careers, and say things they will probably regret in the future,” he said.
“In a way it’s disappointing, but it may be healthy. I still consider Billy Diamond a friend. This is an event that will cause a lot of reflection, including by Billy.”
O’Reilly disputed some of Diamond’s claims and allegations. He said Crees were right to reject Quebec’s proposed deal on forestry last year. “It was full of holes and the bottom line is the minister still retained the power to determine where cutting would take place and how much,” he said.
He said L’Actualité’s description of the forestry deal as generous to the Crees “was a piece of intellectual dishonesty,” and disputed the magazine’s claim that the deal was worth up to $470 million.
Crees gave Diamond ample opportunity to negotiate deals on forestry and unfulfilled promises from the James Bay Agreement, but it became obvious the province wasn’t serious, he said. “His strategy was allowed to proceed, but it failed. The people of Waskaganish were behind the court proceedings (on forestry) and so were all the communities.
“If Quebec had come through on their word – if they had delivered on half the things they had told Billy – this would be a non-issue,” said O’Reilly.
As to Diamond’s claim that “white agents” secretly control the Cree leadership, O’Reilly said the allegation is unfair. “I feel in a way he doesn’t give enough credit to his own people,” he said.
The biggest surprise for O’Reilly was Diamond’s confession that he regrets his fight against Hydro-Quebec’s James Bay project in the 1970s: “I think what disappointed me most, if he was quoted correctly, is that he said he was wrong about Hydro-Quebec.”
In the end, however, O’Reilly was sanguine about the situation. “It sort of came out of the blue. You wonder why he did it. But I still think Billy’s done some fantastic things no one will ever erase. He played a great role.”