Did Quebec threaten to cut off funds to Crees if they didn’t back off on the $600-million-plus forestry lawsuit?

Some Cree leaders say that’s exactly what happened and that’s why the chiefs agreed to back down at a Sept. 15 meeting. The court action remains on, but for six months it won’t be “pursued vigorously.” Instead, Crees and Quebec will launch yet another series of negotiations on forestry.

The Natural Resources Ministry denies there were any threats, but admits the court action made things “difficult.”

Asked if there were any threats, Shirley Bishop, spokeswoman for minister Guy Chevrette, said, “Not to my knowledge.”

She added, “But certainly, if a case is in the courts, negotiations don’t work. It’s certain that if they choose to go to the courts, we will have to speak in the courts.” After years of waiting, Quebec finally agreed to a first instalment of $15 million last spring for projects promised way back in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

But the money still hasn’t arrived and Cree communities were told to take out loans which Quebec would repay. Negotiations are under way over next year’s funding and those are the talks that would have been derailed by the court action.

After some confusion about what the chiefs actually decided to do, the Grand Council issued a statement.

“Negotiations are preferable to the courts to resolve problems,” it says. “The court challenges need not be pursued vigorously if there is progress in the forthcoming out-of-court negotiations.”

Crees also will not seek an injunction to stop forestry activities in lyiyuuschii.Crees will pursue the talks with the government until March 31,1999, when they willdecide again what to do. The talks will discuss protection of the Cree way of life,revenuesharing, a moratorium on new cutting areas, forestry allotments for the Creesand other issues.