It’s hard not to walk into a corner store or magazine shop in Quebec without seeing his face.
Plastered on the cover of L’Actualité, former Grand Chief Billy Diamond made a big splash in the Quebec magazine denouncing the “parasites who orchestrate the ‘Quebec-bashing’ of the Crees.”
Billy Diamond’s main criticism was that the Cree leadership acted in “bad faith” by rejecting a supposedly generous deal on forestry proposed by Quebec.
He said Crees should not have gone ahead last year with the forestry court case against Quebec and the logging industry. Instead, they should have kept on negotiating with Quebec, which was “wide open” to further talks. “The door was wide open in Quebec,” he said.
Diamond said it was “dishonest” and “very pathetic” for Crees to return to court last year and demand two injunctions against forestry operations.
But there’s something Billy Diamond and journalist Luc Chartrand didn’t mention anywhere in the nine-page story: Diamond himself supported the decision to press on with the court case.
It happened at a July 5, 1999, chiefs’ meeting in Montreal. The June 30 deadline for a forestry deal with Quebec had passed. Cree leaders had to decide whether to accept Quebec’s last offer or return to court. According to the unofficial minutes of the meeting. Diamond and the other leaders ail agreed:
Crees were going to court.
“There is nothing for the trappers, the money is not enough,” Diamond said. “But I don’t need any more convincing.”
Later at the same meeting, Diamond again said Quebec’s offer was no good and he supported the court action.
“Are we going to court to stop forestry? Do we recognize the potential implications of our actions? We must be clear that people will be put out of work and there will be repercussions on all this. If we are ready to deal with this then I am ready to go to court,” Diamond said.
“We are still far apart and recycled money is unacceptable,” he added.
Diamond even suggested that Crees could use economic pressure to put more leverage on Quebec. “The Crees are an economic force. We could harness this with local sanctions including all the Cree entities,” he said.
Near the end of the meeting, Diamond said, “I think John Kitchen should call (Quebec negotiator) Jean-Paul Beaulieu and tell him that the offer was not acceptable. I will do the same with Robert Sauvé (Quebec’s deputy minister for Aboriginal Affairs).”
The minutes are also interesting in light of Diamond’s allegation in L’Actualité that “white agents” are manipulating Crees on forestry. The four non-Crees at the meeting spoke only briefly and were outnumbered by the 11 Cree officials and chiefs.
Diamond did not return calls to his home in Waskaganish or cellphone.
Grand Council official Romeo Saganash, who was present at the July 5. 1999, meeting, confirmed that Diamond said Quebec’s offer was unacceptable and that he supported the Cree court action. He said he “was stunned” when he saw the story in L’Actualité.
Saganash said he told reporter Luc Chartrand that he’d be wise to verify Diamond’s allegations, but added, “His mind was made up before I even had the interview with him.”
Diamond met with Sauvé and Beaulieu in Quebec City on July 6, the day after the chiefs’ meeting.
Diamond summarized the discussions at this meeting in a July 8 letter to then-Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, which was cc’ed to all the Cree chiefs.
Diamond’s letter reiterates his rejection of Quebec’s offer and also makes it very clear that Quebec was not open to further concessions.
Again, this contradicted the statements attributed to Diamond in L’Actualité.
“I gave a description of the deliberations of the Chiefs on this matter including the 11 reasons for rejection and confirmed that the offer presented was unacceptable,” wrote Diamond.
“The Chiefs had concluded that they were not prepared to support a continuation of the negotiations based on the offer before them. They were now ready to proceed against Quebec in court”
Far from being open to more concessions, Diamond reported that Quebec was barely willing to endorse the deal already on the table.
He wrote that the two Quebec senior officials were “shocked,” “angered” and “distraught” at the Cree decision.
“(Beaulieu) said that he had gone out on a limb to reach a deal, risking his own career in the process,” Diamond wrote. “He admitted he had even ‘cheated’ his own government a bit to jack up the monetary offer in an effort to reach an agreement with the Crees.
“He truly believed he could have sold the package to the government had there been an agreement. He was prepared to live with the consequences if the government did not accept his offer.
“When asked if he thought Quebec would still consider a higher monetary offer, he replied, ‘never,’” Diamond wrote.