It was like night and day. Unlike to the announcement of another “nation-to-nation” agreement five years ago, the deal announced July 16 between the Crees and the federal government has met with universal approval.
The 20-year Agreement Concerning a New Relationship Between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, which will see $1.4 billion going to the Crees to assume certain federal JBNQA responsibilities and obligations, must be approved by the Cree people in a referendum. The general consensus is that there should be little problem on the Cree side as ceding land or rivers isn’t part of this Agreement.
“This is because of the hard work and preparation leading up to the Agreement,” said Grand Chief Matthew Mukash. “The chiefs were involved at every stage and had input into the negotiations. It was an item on every Council/Board meeting.” It will no doubt be a proud moment at this year’s Grand Council/CRA Annual General Assembly.
“This agreement between Canada and the Grand Council of the Crees closes a chapter on the disputes of the past and turns the page to a new, mutually respectful future.”
– The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, on behalf of the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians”Canada and the Crees are for the first time setting up governmental relations between us under which we as the Cree Nation decide our own priorities and policies in respect to local and Cree Nation government. This Agreement is a major step in allowing the Crees to assume greater authority in the development of their Nation.”- Matthew Mukash
The smiles and congratulations continued the next day as the timetable and conditions were revealed at a council/board meeting in Montreal. Over 50 per cent of those who vote must be in favour of the Agreement with a minimum of 25 per cent of the voting population in favour of it. Each Cree band council must pass a resolution authorizing a representative to acknowledge they are represented by the Grand Council and the CRA in the making of the Agreement and agree to be bound by it.
As Mistissini Chief John Longchap said, “With this Agreement multi-year plans are now possible. Before this the Cree bands were dependent on year-to-year funding. Economic development is now possible. Self sufficiency is possible through the two Agreements [provincial and federal]. We’re seeing the fruits of past agreements that served as a pillar for the Cree Nation. Thank you to the negotiating team for their hard work and diligence in coming to an Agreement with the federal government.”
Indeed the whole Agreement is a first in more ways than one. Don’t expect the same problems that plagued the Paix des Braves. This might well be the first time that there aren’t any Cree leaders who will fight the Agreement.
Mukash went on to say the Crees had received letters of support for the Agreement from the Naskapi, the Inuit via Makivik Corporation and the Quebec government through the Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. This in itself shows the level of the preparation and desire on the part of all parties that went into making this Agreement possible.
It is what led Wemindji Chief Rodney Mark to say, “I absolutely approve of this Agreement. I respect the patience of the leadership and extend my congratulations to Grand Chief Matthew Mukash and Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff. I congratulate Bill Namagoose and his team for their work. As a result we can really plan our communities. Our community is going to endorse the referendum for a yes vote. The governance section is really empowering for our people.”
His words were echoed by the other chiefs present when they spoke. Many also referred to the work of previous grand chiefs, chiefs and negotiators and the unity the Crees showed when they fought Hydro-Quebec’s Great Whale project.
Basically, the Agreement is a 20-year advance with a ground-breaking Cree self-government agreement thrown in – and a lot of expensive court cases thrown out. Mukash could not say whether or not legal costs to the Crees would disappear entirely as there were a few cases left and it depended on how much work governance would take. The Agreement does not amend the JBNQA or significantly change any legislation.
There will be changes though to the Cree Naskapi Act and possibly amendments to others. Crees, their entities and businesses will still be able to access the programs and funding they always have. They can access any new programs unless those are covered in the Agreement. This means, for example, the Cree School Board and Cree Board of Health and Social Services will continue to receive and access funding and services as they always have.
“This historic agreement will have a significant impact on subsequentnegotiations affecting aboriginal communities. It puts an end to 30 years ofdisputes and, among other things, will lead to the creation of a regional aboriginal government. My colleagues and I are delighted to havecontributed to this agreement and represented the interests of the Cree.”
– Robert Mainville, an attorney for the Cree with Montreal-based Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP law firm.
“The Cree negotiation team headed by Mr. Bill Namagoose deserves special mention for the commitment and dedication for their hard work to realize this day.”
The money will likely first be delivered in 2008 if there is a yes vote by the end of October or the beginning of November. The first payment will be $ 1.05 billion. The second payment of $100 million will arrive within 30 days of Royal Assent of the amendments to the Cree Nation of Quebec Act. A third payment of $200 million will be given within 30 days of the Royal Assent of the Governance Legislation.
The governance section shows that Mukash delivered on his main election promise of two years ago. The Agreement empowers the CRA to pass bylaws as do band councils. It will also allow Cree citizens to make complaints to the Cree Naskapi Commission about the CRA in the same way they can now complain about band councils. This provides the same checks and balances for the new Cree Nation government as band councils are subject to.
It also lays out a process where Cree Nation governance will be a reality within five years of the signing of the Agreement. Quebec will be a part of these negotiations where their jurisdiction is involved. It means the Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority will act as a regional government on Category IA lands.
For Cree Nation Governance to become reality, the Cree will have to write a constitution reflecting Cree values and beliefs to serve as the fundamental law of the Nation.
The constitution will provide law enactment procedures, democratic procedures for election of leaders and their accountability to the Cree, financial accountability, structure and procedures of government, conflict of interest guidelines, public consultations, referenda and voting, access to information and amendment formulas – to name only a few. One can hope they are starting work on this already as the work load is heavy and the 5 years will be up before we know it. Much of this and the work to be done will be explained in community consultations.
The Grand Council will assume the responsibilities of the JBNQA administration of Justice, the Cree Trappers Association, Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association, Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association, manpower, training facilities, construction of community centres, essential sanitation services, fire protection, economic development agents and community affairs services. In assuming these obligations they will have to establish minimum regional standards that meet or exceed federal or provincial standards on essential sanitation and housing.
“When we started to unite together back in the 70s when the first development project came to our territory the strength came from our Elders and our people back then. It shows in how we have kept our culture, our traditional life and our language is still very strong. This Agreement sees the unfulfilled obligations of 1975 being implemented because we decided on an out-of-court settlement that led to the announcement of the Agreement. There are responsibilities that are going to be transferred to us and we will decide on the priorities. This Agreement shows we are still a united people.”
– Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff”In my view, self government is the criticalfoundation needed to build happy, healthy First
Nation communities. This agreement is apositive step forward. There are many morechapters that need to be closed across thecountry in order to bring about the fullexpression of self-determination for all First
Nations, and to close the poverty gap thatexists between First Nations and Canadians.”
– Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine
CRA granted vast new powers
The CRA will also have to “promote and preserve the culture, values and traditions of the Cree beneficiaries and the Cree bands.” Other passages include the “respecting of the environment, including natural resources… respecting the prevention of pollution.”
When there is a conflict between the local band bylaw and the CRA bylaw the CRA takes precedence. While this may appear to be a potential problem, Grand Council lawyer and negotiator Robert Mainville said this applies in the areas where the CRA has jurisdiction.
Mainville used the example of fire protection. Fire stations would be consolidated under regional bylaws and standardized. “The powers band councils enjoy under the Cree Naskapi Act are still maintained,” Mainville said.
Band councils will also have to provide a copy of their annual budget to the CRA just as they have to send one to the Ministry of Indian Affairs. “We will need this to decide on the disbursement of money to bands,” explained Bill Namagoose, the Cree’s head negotiator.
Namagoose also pointed out that passage allowing the CRA to appoint a new auditor in certain cases is normally a ministerial power. “It’s one we don’t expect to use but it is significant we have this option,” Namagoose said.
Mukash admitted this may become necessary for the Grand Council to establish a Cree version of a treasury board and an independent auditor because of the monies involved and the way they are to be used.
All local police forces will be consolidated into one regional police force, which will have jurisdiction over Category IA lands. They will continue to enforce the applicable laws of Canada and Quebec as well as the local band by-laws and CRA by-laws. This will lead to less accusations of local band interference in police matters. It will not mean though the new force is some sort of Cree version of the RCMP or FBI according to Mukash. It will mean a standardization of the police and the ability of the duties they have to carry out.
One of the areas of the JBNQA Justice section that will not be carried out is the construction of a federal prison for Crees. Namagoose said there is no need for one at this time as there are only six Cree federal prisoners. When the Agreement is up for renewal in 20 years this aspect can be revisited if the situation changes.
Canada has agreed to accept the transfer of Block “D” back to Chisasibi. This relates to the airport and the barge landing. The land is contaminated but Hydro-Quebec is cleaning it up. As Quebec must agree this is currently the subject of talks between Canada, Quebec and Chisasibi.
Ouje-Bougoumou may finally be officially recognized as a Cree community, but Quebec has to be part of that process.
Washaw Sibi and the CRA will look at their options. The Cree Nation Government will be responsible for implementing a solution to this community’s status, including any costs. Canada and Quebec will be invited to participate in those talks.
The Agreement will not affect Mo
Creebec or its court cases. The reasoning is that Mo
Creebec is considered “out of the territory” (of the JBNQA) the Agreement restrictions do not apply.
Speaking of court cases, the Paix des Braves settled many outstanding lawsuits. This Agreement is no different in that respect. The costly Coon Come cases (1,2 and 3) will be dropped. A portion of Coon Come #3 is currently part of negotiations and will continue to be an issue.
Two community specific court cases – the Bosum and Vanadium proceeding – are not affected by the Agreement.
Part of them deals with what applies in the JBNQA territory concerning the environment.
Avoiding the courts
Aside from the foregoing outstanding issues, the Crees agreed not to take Canada to court over anything related to “past implementation of the JBNQA by Canada.”
To help ensure there are no more legal challenges over this Agreement there will be a mediation process established as well as a Cree-Canada Standing Liaison Committee. It will be the committee’s job to make sure this Agreement is implemented.
Crees have learnt from past problems and this shows in the referendum process. Plans are being made for community consultations.
According to former Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, consultations have already been held in Mistissini and Chisasibi. He said some people came to the afternoon session and others in the evening so it wasn’t just a repeat for the same people. This means more people will be informed and able to understand the agreement.
An historic agreement?
* The agreement puts an end to years of disputes
The Canada-Cree agreement puts an end to most Cree disputes in existence since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in 1975. These disputes concern claims totaling several billion dollars. The agreement also delegates certain federal obligations to the Cree for a 20-year period renewable according to the terms of subsequent negotiations. New federal transfers of up to $1.4 billion will assist the Cree community in assuming these new obligations.
* The agreement provides for companion federal obligations to The Paix des Braves
The 2002 signing of the New Relationship Agreement by the Cree Nation and the Government of Quebec gave new momentum to relations between the Cree and Quebecers. However, that agreement required Canadian government involvement with respect to many of the commitments made by Quebec. The Canada-Cree agreement helps clarify the Canadian government’s role in settling pending matters with Quebec.
* The agreement provides a framework for negotiations that will lead to the creation of a new regional aboriginal government
The Canada-Cree agreement is groundbreaking in that it provides a framework for negotiations that will lead to the creation of an aboriginal regional government. The agreement describes the process for discussions between the Cree, the Canadian government, and the Quebec Government with a view to developing a regional Cree governance model. In addition, the agreement transfers a number of legal, economic development, and community development obligations under the JBNQA from the federal government to the Cree Regional Authority.