Oujé-Bougamou’s voyage on the long road to recognition has finally reached its endpoint. Almost two years after the signing of Amendment 22, which confirmed Oujé-Bougoumou’s place in the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), and over 20 years since the Oujé-Bougoumou/Canada Agreement led to the creation of the community, O-J is now a full member of Eeyou Istchee.
The November 7, 2011, agreement has culminated in a land-swap deal between the Cree Nation of Mistissini and the provincial government. The deal was signed in Mistissini September 5 with a ceremony celebrating the two communities’ lasting relationship. Grand Chief Mathew Coon Come and Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark as well as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Élizabeth Larouche and Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet took part in this historic day.
Through the transfer of lands, the agreement establishes Category 1A, 1B, and II lands for Oujé-Bougoumou. The area in question corresponds to the land base assigned to Oujé-Bougoumou at its inception in 1992.
“We are very happy today to finally see our journey come to its destination – the fulfillment of the dream of our Elders,” said Oujé-Bougamou Chief Reggie Neeposh. “To have a permanent home and to see Oujé-Bougoumou take its rightful place in the life of Eeyou Istchee is something we have been working very long and very hard to achieve.”
The ceremony began two days earlier when a group of community members from Oujé-Bougoumou embarked on a canoe journey from Lake Wachonici to Oujé-Bougoumou Point. The point had been the traditional campsite during the summer for the people of Oujé-Bougoumou who would come there to collect their rations from the Indian agent and the Hudson Bay Company manager, as well as having marriages performed and celebrating family events.
“Today represents the culmination of our long efforts to bring Oujé-Bougoumou to our table, to see an injustice righted and to acknowledge the importance of Cree unity for our collective well-being,” Coon Come said.
With the signing of the Final Agreement Related to the Transfer of Certain Lands from Mistissini to the Government of Québec, Oujé-Bougoumou is now a full-status member of the JBQNA at the same level of the other eight Cree communities. “On behalf of the community of Mistissini, we are pleased to have been able to do our part in establishing the basis for Oujé-Bougoumou to join the family of Cree communities as an equal and important member,” said Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio.
In return for 2,300 square kilometres of land, Mistissini will receive a $20 million infusion to help encourage growth in the tourism and natural resources sector of the community. The agreement marks the settlement of the provincial government’s financial obligation to Mistissini as laid out in in Schedule G of the Paix des Braves Agreement.
“This signing demonstrates that the government honours its commitments and takes to heart the harmonious development of Aboriginal communities in Quebec,” said Larouche. “The community can enjoy renewed socio-economic vitality, which will stimulate the job market for Cree youth in the region. This is an excellent example of an investment in northern development that benefits everyone.”
After many long years of exile and exploitation, the people of Oujé-Bougoumou can now take their rightful place in the Cree nation. With control given back to the community, all nine Cree First Nations in Eeyou Istchee will be working together as equals.