The political landscape of Eeyou Istchee may be in for another change. The Commission de la representation electorale du Quebec is looking at changing the Ungava electoral map.
The Grand Council of the Crees made a presentation to the commission in Montreal on June 12, as to how the revision of electoral boundaries will affect the Cree communities.
Grand Chief Matthew Mukash stated, “On March 12, this commission tabled in the National Assembly a report that contained various recommendations, including a drastic cutback of the district of Ungava in favour of the slower-growing districts of Abitibi-Ouest and Abitibi-Est.
“This proposal would have serious impacts on the people of Waswanipi and Ouje-Bougoumou as they would be separated from the other seven Cree communities and they would be represented from thereon by a different MNA.
“This proposal would also impact on and affect the functioning and integration of various of our regional institutions, some of which have been built over the past 30 years.
“And most importantly, the breakaway of two of our communities would strike at the heart of our Cree Nation, the integrity of which has been solidified in recent times and has drawn on a history that spans over thousands of years.”
Mukash also said there are non-Cree who were opposed to any changes to the electoral map of Ungava. “In this regard, you already heard some presentations at the hearings in Chibougamau, most notably those of Mr. Luc Ferland – currently the Member of the National Assembly for Ungava – and of Mr. Michel Letourneau – MNA for Ungava before Mr. Ferland.
“All those who made presentations in Chibougamau and in Val-d’Or were strongly opposed to any changes to the boundaries of the electoral district of Ungava. Their presentations focused essentially on describing the people and
electors of Ungava as forming a “natural community”.
“You were told that, despite their inherent differences, the three communities – the Crees, the Inuit and the other Quebecois – co-existed peacefully; that certain features were unique to the land and people of the region known as Ungava, and that the institutions and communities had become integrated to the point where a sense of “natural community” had emerged over the past 30 years. This, you were told, could well justify safeguarding the integrity of the current electoral district of Ungava, so insuring that a single MNA represent the interests of the entire region,” said Mukash.
“We believe that Quebec democracy would be much better served with a new electoral map. Indeed, when this map is considered as a whole, it is fairer and better corresponds to what Quebec has become,” said Marcel Blanchet, president of the Commission de la representation electorale.
Mukash also talked about the protection of Cree rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) through traditional activities, an environmental and social protection regime, and ability to participate and be involved in development of Eeyou Istchee including a forestry regime.
He also pointed out this may affect the way the Cree School Board and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services are run.
A regional police force has been created with jurisdiction in all nine communities.
Mukash said the recent Paix des braves and federal agreements will require a “high level of regional administrative coordination and integration, as well as political liaison with both the governments of Canada and Quebec.”
As a result, “The Crees living in the nine James Bay Cree communities share a common history and culture – they truly form a “natural community”. Being all beneficiaries of the (JBNQA), they have built over the past 30 years a number of institutions, most of which are well-integrated on a regional scale.
“The momentum gathered recently with the signing of landmark implementation agreements with the governments of Canada and Quebec requires that the Crees work ever closer together, that they share a common vision and that they speak with a common voice on some of the issues that are common to all of them.
“In this context, the commission’s proposal of isolating Waswanipi and Ouje-Bougoumou from the other James Bay Cree communities is unacceptable.
“With all due respect, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) is strongly opposed to it, and in this regard, for lack of appropriate alternatives, it supports the status quo.”
Blanchet said, “With the current map, some electors have a vote that has more than twice the weight of the vote of other electors, which justified major corrective measures. It is a question of fairness and we used the leeway provided under the act to ensure this fairness.” The final report and recommendations were still being prepared as the Nation went to press.