Ye gods, the Parti Quebecois must be burning with jealousy!
Some Crees have done it once again with another high referendum result. In Whapmagoostui, 92 per cent of Cree voters said they oppose any development projects that would divert the Great Whale River. This referendum was in response to reports that Hydro-Quebec was looking at diverting the Great Whale and Rupert rivers into the existing La Grande Complex (see story, p. 5).
I feel I must compliment the Whapmagoostui Band Council on its decision to include the members of the community on this important decision. Clearly they have recognized that the “Indians” are no longer wards of the state, whether it be Ottawa or closer to home.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Band Councils in the other communities are dictatorial in nature for not having referendums on this or other important issues. I think that Whapmagoostui merely reacted a lot faster than anyone could have expected from those in political office.
But the point is they included all members in a decision that would affect the land. It wasn’t presented at Band Council meetings where a limited number of people would vote on it but presented in a way that involved everyone.
The importance of such referendums has strengthened the mandates that the leadership have. If you look at the last nationwide referendum that the Crees had in response to Quebec’s separation referendum, no one can deny this. The Cree results, according to news analyses, played an important part in the outcome of Quebec’s own referendum.
In this way I think Whapmagoostui’s referendum and resulting mandate to the leadership will play an important part in saving the Great Whale River.
It is those methods that show democracy at its best. Aristotle, the western influence on the concept of democracy (Natives being the other), talked about citizens. He said, “As soon as a man becomes entitled to participate in office, deliberative or judicial, we deem him to be a citizen of that state; and a number of such persons large enough to secure a self-sufficient life we may, by and large, call a state.” In modern times the word “person” would replace the word “man.”
It is interesting to note that Aristotle would consider most of us in Canada as being barely citizens because we rely on representatives to run our public affairs. I think though that he would approve wholeheartedly of the concept of a referendum.
Whapmagoostui took all its citizens and had them exercise a judicial office and give judgment on a question affecting their nation state. I have only praise for the leadership that avocates a citizen’s responsibility and participation. The $500 budget used for the referendum was money well spent. When one looks at the amount of money spent preparing for a regular band meeting with consultants’ costs, people preparing reports, photocopies, secretaries, etc., then the cost is cheap indeed kto allow democracy to smile once more.