Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard is promising to unblock the impasse in relations with the Crees after his first meeting with Grand Chief Ted Moses.
Bouchard said he would release $18.6 million in long-awaited funds for Cree community projects that have been in limbo since last year.
Bouchard and Moses also agreed to restart negotiations on logging operations in Iyiyuuschii. Cree officials want forestry subjected to the environmental studies set out in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, something Quebec has refused to do for 25 years.
The two sides agreed to give themselves a Sept. 30 deadline to come up with concrete progress in the negotiations on forestry. Quebec is hoping to be able to announce a deal on the 25th anniversary of the James Bay Agreement on November 11.
Bouchard will also look into releasing the rest of the $132 million in funds promised in a 1995 memorandum of understanding with the Crees. The money was supposed to meet some of Quebec’s unfulfilled obligations dating back to the 1975 James Bay Agreement.
Quebec will also look at helping ease the Cree housing crisis. The government acknowledges that some 1,500 new homes are needed, and 500 existing homes need major repairs.
Cree officials were guardedly optimistic about the summit and said Quebec was probably embarrassed into action by the Cree publicity campaign on forestry. “They certainly don’t want bad press,” said Sam Etapp, coordinator of the Grand Council Forestry Working Group.
“The trip to Home Depot had quite an impact here in Quebec. Lucien Bouchard was saying there was a lot of political pressure as a result of that trip,” said Etapp, a reference to the visit by a Cree delegation to Home Depot, the world’s biggest lumber retailer, in May.
Etapp also denied Chevrette’s claim to reporters that the Crees have promised to suspend their $500-million lawsuit over forestry operations, which is now before the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We’re not postponing the case,” he said. “The chiefs gave the mandate to go ahead. We’re still going to the Supreme Court.”
Etapp did say, however, that it will take the Supreme Court justices three to six months before they decide whether to accept the Cree request to appeal two lower-court decisions in the case.
What that does mean is there will be no new court action during the negotiations over forestry with Quebec.
Another Grand Council official said Chevrette simply “spun that around to make it look like he won.”
Last week, Cree officials headed to the five southern-most Cree communities to discuss the latest forestry developments with the people.
One Cree official who asked to be unnamed said he’s taking a wait-and-see attitude: “Bouchard said similar things before and nothing came out of it Things are supposed to start moving. I guess the big test is to see how fast it happens.”