Chiefs from four coastal Cree communities have apparently complained to Guy Chevrette, Quebec’s native-affairs minister, of being penalized because of the Cree forestry lawsuit.

Chief Kenny Loon of Mistissini said the complaints were apparently made at a meeting with the minister that took place during goose break.

Chevrette suspended talks on funding for Cree community projects and other issues in February due to the forestry lawsuit filed last summer. Cree officials have denounced Chevrette’s move as “blackmail.” But the chiefs of Waskaganish, Wemindji, Eastmain and Chisasibi – where there is no forestry – are grumbling about the forestry case.

All the chiefs are scheduled to meet Chevrette on May 28 to clear up the community-funding talks started under the memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) signed in 1995. The MOU money was supposed to meet unfulfilled promises made in the James Bay Agreement; a clause said court cases wouldn’t affect the funds.

Loon said he could sympathize with the coastal chiefs because no MOU money means no needed projects or summer jobs: “People are already suffering.” Loon has also met with Chevrette to discuss paving the highway from Chibougamau to Mistissini.

Tom Wadden, treasurer of Wemindji, said he can understand the southern communities’ concerns over forestry. “What affects one community affects us all,” said Wadden. He worried, though, Quebec is getting a mixed message from the Cree communities. He cited the Waswanipi band asking for money for a sawmill while Crees take a stand against forestry.

Wadden worried about Wemindji’s own problems, like town drainage, paving the roads (the sand on the roads is causing respiratory problems) and waste disposal – for which there is no funding.

Waswanipi Chief John Kitchen hoped the other chiefs don’t decide to pull out of the forestry case. He recalled that all nine Cree communities agreed to support each other. Kitchen said his impression of the forestry community tour – held to get a mandate for the court action – was that people were happy they were finally going to “seek answers and benefits. People were saying to go ahead (with the court case).”

Kitchen put the blame for the confusion on Quebec’s doorstep. “What Quebec did (suspending the MOU funding) was blackmail. It’s not right. They agreed to fund these things. Court cases shouldn’t affect the MOU,” he said. Kitchen said the Cree camp is in conflict over short-term and long-term visions and needs: “Things are going to be tough. It’s going to be a long summer.” He didn’t rule out Waswanipi going after Quebec alone if it had to. “An 84-year-old woman came up to me the other day and she told me she’ll be on a forestry blockade if it happens,” he said.

Nemaska Chief George Wapachee said the suspension of the MOU funds is a worry for Nemaska too, but he’s not blind to Quebec’s colonialist attitude. “The divide-and-conquer, it’s always there. We have to make sure it doesn’t blind us. As chiefs we’re not oblivious to that.”