Most First Nations are intimately versed in the realities of colonization. The outcries we heard from many First Nations about Canada’s refusal to sign the UN declaration of Indigenous Peoples seemed to be a continuation of the colonial roots of Canada. I have to admit that I am confused given the signing ceremony on February 26 in Mistissini.
In a few strokes of the pen the federal Conservative government righted a good portion of the wrongs of the past 20 some years concerning the Cree and the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
Not only that but it did so in a surprising manner. The Crees will get $1.4 billion out of the deal. It will not be doled out in small amounts each year but we will see the bulk of it in the form of $1.1 billion dropped into a Cree Trust bank account within “days” according to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.
This is the largest amount of money given at one time to any First Nation. It speaks volumes of the trust given to the Cree by the Canadian government to manage their own affairs. It speaks to being treated as equals in terms of governance. It shows an unexpected willingness on the part of the Conservative Party to right the wrongs of the past and create a true new relationship with the Cree.
As Grand Chief Matthew Mukash said, “We gather here in Mistissini to celebrate the progress represented by this Agreement, and to thank the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, represented by the honorable Minister Chuck Strahl, for having the foresight to listen to our concerns and the courage to act on its commitments. After 33 years, because of the Harper government, Canada can finally say to the Cree People that it has been true to its word.”
The Canadian government has had 33 years of having difficulties in being true to its word as we all know.
Indeed, our past history with the Canadian government should not be forgotten; however, now we can finally also look to the future. A future that while we remember the lessons we have learnt we should look to less conflict and more control over our destiny.
It is not to say that all the wrongs have been righted or the fight to have our rights recognized and respected is finished with. We still have more before us but a great deal has been accomplished in this decade. Though not all may agree with the Paix des Braves, it brought home a surer control of our future, as does this latest agreement. With each agreement the Cree have learnt much and it shows in the actions of our leaders and how they respond to the challenges put before them.
Mukash recognized those who went before him when he said, “Our Grand Chiefs, Billy Diamond, Ted Moses and Matthew Coon Come, and their councils, each in their own ways fought using the means provided within the laws of Canada and within international law, to gain the implementation of our treaty.”
The lessons each have learnt has been passed down from Grand Chief to Grand Chief and we can see the results.
It is a long process but decolonization is an elusive goal as many First Nations know. It is, however, one that all First Nations endeavour to attain. Within this Agreement, the past agreements and those we hope to make, it seems more and more a possibility for the Cree Nation. Since 1975 the Crees have made great progress in decolonization and taking control of their destiny. The future holds great hope as long as we stay the course because the reality is that it all comes down to the Cree people and how they deal with what they want or need that future to be.
As Minister Strahl said, “I am convinced that reaching these agreements is the best way for federal, provincial, territorial and First Nation governments to ensure that we can all live together in an economically prosperous, culturally vibrant and environmentally sustainable country. Of course, much work remains to be done; many steps must be taken for us to reach this goal. But before we resume our efforts, let us acknowledge the significant strides we have made to arrive at where we are today. Let us honour those who have helped us along this path. Let us celebrate the birth of a new relationship.”