The Grand Council of the Crees is getting ready to assume control of their own destiny and create a constitution under which all Crees would live – and at the same time work towards a new relationship with the Canadian government that will see Ottawa deliver on past obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
“Our intention is that the federal power under section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement be transferred to a Cree government and that the federal government stay out of environmental agreement processes,” said Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council.
They had been working on an outline agreement for six years and finally reached a deal acceptable to both sides on July 4.
From there they hope to reach a draft agreement by September 30 and then bring it to the people to be signed before the end of this year.
Although no cash amount has been bandied about, it’s estimated that this agreement could be worth several hundred million or even billions of dollars.
“There will be a funding amount to take care of the past,” Namagoose said about Canada’s failure to live up to certain obligations under the JBNQA. “That’s the only thing to do about the past is to pay for the outstanding obligations.”
One glaring example of a failure to live up to certain parts of the JBNQA was the fact that it took the feds 25 years to build an access road for Waskaganish, something that was supposed to be done shortly after the agreement was signed.
If the new agreement is accepted, and Namagoose does not foresee any obstacles, the much talked-about Cree Nation Police force will finally receive the federal portion of the funding it sorely needs to get going.
“We will be retaining some of the local constables, two or three of the guys, to start working on logistics of a Cree Nation Police Force,” Namagoose stated. He also mentioned that Quebec is already on board, so they are two-thirds of the way there.
In return for the new relationship agreement, the Crees will settle any outstanding lawsuits against the feds, including a settlement of the Coon Come case, “to the extent possible,” said Namagoose. The Coon Come case dealt with past obligations of both the provincial and federal governments and brought to the forefront First Nations as a third level of government in Canada.
“The federal government operates under the Cree Naskapi Act and they recognize nine communities, but they do not recognize the Nation as a whole,” said Namagoose. “So now there will be a piece of legislation in three to four years from now passed by the federal government recognizing the Cree Nation.”
Namagoose credits federal negotiator Raymond Chretien, who took over the process a year ago, as the driving force behind the new federal attitude.
“He took a different approach, a problem-solving approach,” he said. “The first thing he did when he got hired was visit two of the Cree communities for a week. He was able to see and talk to a lot of people, and visit LG-2. The federal government used to say the LG-2 installation didn’t concern them, but this is part of the Cree circumstance.
“The Cree government will continue to function after the 20 years, but after the 20 years maybe all the past obligations will be settled,” Namagoose added. “This is to be discussed. There will be a package for the past obligations, plus operation costs for the Cree Nation government that will continue after the 20 years.”
Namagoose also said that many other details have yet to be ironed out, but he is hopeful that in the near future the Crees will take their rightful place as a recognized Nation alongside Canada.