It should happen in the high schools, in homes and in every community. Mistissini chief Henry Mianscum says there should be a full public debate about the future of Cree society as the possibility of Quebec separation approaches.
“The issue of sovereignty has yet to be fully debated,” said Mianscum. “Let’s think. Let’s think about our future. There should be a debate in the schools. Students should be involved because they have a lot of input in their families and because it’s their future. There should be public forums,” he told The Nation.
“It would be fully beneficial for everyone to understand what the issue is all about. What does it mean to be sovereign, orto stay in the federal system, or go with a sovereign Quebec? Just like any issue, there’s a lot of hype.”
Mianscum said the issue is too important to leave to Cree leaders alone. “Today, more and more people want to be part of that decision. They want to become involved in this whole decision-making process, especially on an issue this serious. That’s the future.”
A debate is needed among Crees before any major decision is taken. “It’s not the time just to jump into bed with whatever proposal sounds better. The whole public needs to have a debate.”
He emphasized that a debate is needed before any referendum is held on the issue. “A referendum is often very much influenced by how certain groups want people to vote. There’s a lot of politicking to sway people.
There’s a lot of things they can do to sway people.”
For Mianscum, neither Quebec nor Canada has been especially generous to the Cree people. “It’s difficult at this time for me to say I support federalism or Quebec sovereignty. If you look back at history, we’ve been treated equally badly by both Canada and Quebec.”
But the idea of Crees forming their own country may not be realistic. “What does that imply for how we are going to look after all our social problems, educational costs? Those ate things we have to look at. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our people, but we have to be realistic. It’s the same for the Quebecois. How are they going to survive as a country?”
He said Canada is a different country than it was during Confederation, and the constitution hasn’t caught up. “What Quebec is trying to do in terms of sovereignty, it is the French people who are totally dissatisfied with the constitutional structure. They see it as a threat to their culture, their language. But do the average Quebecois see themselves as people who want to be part of a new country, with their own money and economic problems?”
But he said the First Nations also have problems with the constitutional order. “We would like to be recognized by the federal government and by Quebec as a distinct group. We are here and we have always been here,” said Mianscum.
We have never insulted anyone else. In fact, we have always had to defend what we have.”