I have just received your memo that was distributed widely regarding the ongoing Cree/Quebec negotiations. I am, with respect, disappointed and flabbergasted with the reaction and your letter. It is not based on the essential nature of the process which we have out in place with Quebec. I also would have thought that for a matter of such importance that you would have spoken to me first to get the proper final documents and get a full explanation of the process.
The Cree people and their leaders must address this issue with all the facts before them and with the knowledge of what is an effective Cree strategy to deal with the respect of Cree Rights and obligations of governments – all governments.
Different paths have been taken to address obligations of Quebec and Canada. They are different because of the relationships we have with them, the political and legal realities of the times, and the nature of Cree priorities. I may have many concerns about the approach with Canada, but agree wholeheartedly that all federal obligations should be respected. The difficulty I have is the JBNQA and other foundations of Cree rights apply to Quebec as well. This point seems to be lost in your letter.
Let me deal only with the Quebec situation and the contents of your memo. Point numbers I to 9 are ones that are not in dispute and are endorsed by me completely. In fact, the whole process with Quebec has been one which is entirely consistent with and supportive of these principles.
– Cree rights must be respected.
– There can be no releases or sign offs until the Crees agree that an obligation has been respected and fulfilled.
-The negotiations with Quebec should not impact upon federal obligations.
– Cree priorities must be respected.
– There can be no “hostages.”
The mou and the final implementation agreement draft respect all of these principles
We have an agreement before us that specifically says that this is without prejudice to the position ofthe Crees, court proceedings and other basis for Cree Rights. What is wrong with this?
We have capital and related projects put before Quebec that have been prepared, prioritized andsubmitted by the communities themselves and the offices of Managers of the various Bands. Creepriorities and community leadership was fully respected.
We also have Quebec capital funding of
$15,000,000, but the Quebec cabinet cut it to reflect the amount received in the federal negotiation pursuant to the Agreement of August 14, 1997. Other capital negotiations continue with no preconditions. What is wrong with this?
We finally have issues of principles such as the application of Quebec programs resolved. Important issues such as preferential contracts, the revival of SODAB, a training centre, access roads, services and facilities for the elderly and disabled subject to community direction on the way they wish their people to be treated, and other specific issues are to be addressed – after over 23 years of neglect. What is wrong with this?
We have in the document a recognition that there will now be revenue sharing and wealth sharing on the table. We both know the difficulties in having this brought back, not as a theoretical question, but in the context of how it is going to be done. What is wrong with this?
We have addressed only the specific issues in this document, but leaving open our positions on other matters. We have specifically said that “Parallel Negotiations” – on health, education, police, justice, income security, environment should continue.
By doing this we give further support and substance to these negotiations. What is wrong with this?
Parallel to this document and as a partial result of it, a table has been established between Quebec, Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou to address a list of issues relating to land transfer, the 1989 MOU, access road issues, and whatever else the ingenuity and imagination of Chiefs Mianscum and Bosum can bring to the table. What is wrong with this?
I now must address the issue that takes up most of your memo and cannot stand. Component number 5 of the process provides in the MOU for negotiations on “Regional Authorities” and in the implementation Plan we go into more detail on what can be done.
This section was added to give us a way of reviewing entities, authorities and committees that have evolved and where situations have changed. We have even included the JDBC and SEBJ as possible entities to be considered.
The draft of this section which you cited is not correct [The letter quotes Issue No. 5 as it appears on p. 24 of this issue -Ed]… Firstly, this section provides for the making of recommendations on issues – not action on issues. Secondly, nothing in this section can go forward without the Cree agreement that the entity in question should be reviewed.
I have made it clear in the explanations to the Chiefs, to the Grand Chief, to the Deputy Grand Chief, to those who attended the briefing of the Chiefs in Val d’Or on January 20 and at the Council/Board meeting of January 22 and anyone who wished to ask me that question, that there has not been any decision taken by the Crees in regard to any entity on this list. This will be done only after the approval of that entity has been sought and the Cree Nation as a whole decides that it wants to deal with the issue.
We have said for years that it is necessary to modernize and to upgrade or review certain entities and this is the opportunity to do so. We are not bound to deal with any entity and it was made clear to the Cree School Board last week, for example, that this is not only the intent, but the commitment.
You are tilting at windmills — there is a danger here that does not exist. You have been led to ignore the actual wording of the section, led to believe that the Cree negotiator is acting here in bad faith, and have not asked me what this section is meant to do and will do.
Nothing — nothing — nothing happens without the Crees and their institutions consenting. In fact, this is the opportunity for the Crees to strengthen and give effect to Cree rights — and indeed to raise them to a higher level.
I must now deal with a delicate issue. There are those who will be against my agreement with Quebec — no matter what it says and what it contains. I understand that and have made it clear that such a policy is not in the best interests of the Crees. It may be the position of some of those who advise us — but WE must decide what is best for our people.
Negotiations are one way of moving forward — with both governments — and I will fight when Ihave to and negotiate and talk when it is right to do so. I will not heed the advice of those who,under all circumstances and without exception, refuse to deal with Quebec and Canada, and even whenthey do so, they do it only with the purpose of destroying relations and not improving them, and in theprocess of destroying the Crees. We have advisors and Cree bureaucrats now thinking of only theirown gains and not the Cree Nation…. The process has been fully explained to the Chiefs and approvedby the Council/Board. They can always change their position, but I strongly recommend to the Crees thatwe proceed, sign the documents and go forward with the next phase of these negotiations.
Grand Council of the Crees did submit our (the Cree Nation’s) intervention in the Alashua Case and, again in the recent Cree School Board Case, that our rights were extinguished in return for certain benefits. In the latter case, we have read in the judgement that the Quebec court declares that the government of Quebec has sovereignty over all of the territory. Why is this allowed to happen when we, the Cree leadership, is expected to protect Cree rights over Eeyou Istchee?
As the courts are just another forum for “negotiation,” in the case of the CSB case, and perhaps in the Matthew Coon Come case as well, we certainly deviated away from the spirit and intent of the 1995 Declaration of Principles, which opened doors toward Cree nation-building (self-determination). At the time, the trust was placed with the Cree Nation leadership to walk us toward self-determination and to protect Cree rights. With regard to the submissions in the courts, we ask: How does the Cree leadership propose to get out of this one? How do we explain this to our people?
With respect to what we term “nation-building” (self-determination and self-governance), we had thought that this was our objective as a Nation in declaring a set of Principles of Self-Determination in 1995 and in the subsequent 1997 General Assembly Resolution calling for a Declaration of the Eeyouch at the 1997 Cree Nation General Assembly in Ouje-Bougoumou. Today, where are we headed?
The WFN believes that nation-building and restructuring as envisioned by the Eeyouch in 1995 are the best options if we are going to be perpetually strong and prosperous as a nation, culturally, socially, economically, politically and otherwise. With respect to this option, the questions that immediately come to mind are: What would be the social, economic and political ramifications of making such a move (a Declaration)? Would Quebec and Canada immediately strike to end the present negotiations? Would the Canadian state delcare war on the Crees? With the wave of support that has hit us over the last few years in our plight to win political recognition, nationally, internationally and, lately, in the Supreme Court of Canada, we think that this would be highly unlikely.
Given the last judgement of the Supreme Court of Canada on aboriginal rights and title to land and resources in the Delgamuukw case, we submit that there is no other opportunity than the present to go for the formal establishment of a Cree National Government and assert our full jurisdiction and control over Eeyou Istchee. We must move forward in this direction as Quebec is preparing to hold an election and perhaps another referendum on sovereignty. We are aware that there is great reservation and perhaps even fear within the Cree leadership toward this idea of making a declaration on our sovereign status as we see it. But this puts a question on our faith in the Great Creator as our Maker, Provider and Protector, a belief that the WFN envisions would be asserted in the proposed Declaration.
The ultimate aim of this Declaration would be beyond simply asserting that our rights and freedoms, political, social, economic and cultural rights derive from previous agreements or from existing government legislation. We would in fact be claiming that these rights flow from laws of the Great Creator and are of divine nature, and also from our inherent status as a nation and as a people. In light of this position, the Declaration and the subsequent process of Cree Nation restructuring need not be subject to government recognition, since this would ultimately be made to the Great Creator and to ourselves. We believe the rest would follow if we place the trust in the Great Creator to walk us through with our vision and mission to
be a strong and prosperous nation in all respects.
We believe that the Cree Nation must make an attempt at all costs to influence not only the force ofconstitutional law as it concerns the establishment of treaty relationships between governments andindigenous peoples, but also to exert some influence in the way indigenous peoples are dealt withunder international law. We see the proposed Declaration as the ultimate tool for establishingimproved relations with governments, one that would be quoted in every court case that we instigateshould we choose, again, to take that form of “negotiation.” If we do this, we would ultimately beforcing the courts to interpret it, although its real meaning would be written in ourlanguage – affirming our true status and identity as a people of a distinct race, distinct language,culture and way of life. The WFN is certain that this would be a great challenge for the governmentsand courts.
We realize that much is stated in this letter that may be of sensitive nature, but nevertheless ithas been stated. We want to assure you that we are proud of the work that was undertaken by theGrand Council of the Crees with respect to interventions in the Supreme Court case on the Quebec independence question as well as in other areas.
We, however, caution that as leaders we feel that we must now response to the voice and vision of our people with respect to self-determination and self-governance. We must remember that this is a vision and voice of our youth (the future of our nation), women, men and, more importantly, that of our respected Elders. This fact cannot be ignored.
We propose, therefore, that everything be done immediately to follow up on the 1996 recommendations by the Eeyou Estchee Commission. This will involve setting up of a regional and local task forces and defining their mandates; establishing a framework for the process; assessment of human and financial resource needs; and the like. We further propose that direction be given in this regard as soon as next week at the GCCEI/CRA Council/Board meeting in Val d’Or. And we must see to it that our negotiations strategies with governments take us forward, building on the rights that we have, rather than opening the door to their being abolished, as envisioned in the current Quebec MOU draft document.
Matthew, we hope that we have made a point in this letter that will be taken seriously and not simply set aside without due consideration and response. The WFN is greatly concerned over the matters raised here. We can only expect an affirmative response and a clear statement by the Cree Nation leadership with respect to these matters.
As a last statement in this letter, we quote the following paragraph from the 1995 Declaration of Principles by the Eeyouch as a reminder of the direction we ought to be taking as a strong and powerful nation:
“As peoples with the right to self-determination, we shall freely decide our political status and associations and freely pursue our future as a people.”
Respectfully yours, WHAPMAGOOSTUI FIRST NATION MATTHEW MUKASH, CHIEF (SIGNED)