It was a signing ceremony to remember, and an event that started out early for the participants. The chiefs and dignitaries had to be at the airport for a 7 am flight to Chibougamau and then on to Chisasibi. Arriving in Chisasibi, everyone was loaded on a bus after an official greeting from Chisasibi Chief Abraham Rupert. Included in the greetings were Elders Charles and Lily Pepabano, Deputy Chief Emily Rondeau, Grand Chief Ted Moses and Youth Chief Ida Coonishish. The festivities at Mitchuap began with Elder William Ratt singing three traditional songs. The first one concerned the land, the second was about the Cree ancestors and the third was for the upcoming goose hunt. Speaking of the Goose Hunt, Washawa Sibi donated 10 geese to the festivities.
But back to the signing ceremony: After the singing Sarah Neacapo welcomed the delegates in Cree followed by Andrea Napash. Both youth said they would never forget the signing of the Agreement. There were many speeches as well as the signing itself.
The agreement has been structured around the following main components:
1) The creation of a fund to mitigate the long-term impact of the construction and operation of the La Grande Complex (1975) on the activities, economy, environment and community life of the Crees;
2) Means to increase the access of the Cree enterprises to contracts related to the operation and maintenance of the La Grande Complex;
3) The implementation of a number of appropriate measures to ensure the public safety of the Crees and specifically the community of Chisasibi;
4) The settlement of disputes pertaining to the performance of prior undertakings by Hydro-Quebec contained in various agreements, and specifically, the out-of-court settlement of pending legal proceedings;
5) The creation of a permanent forum for discussion and communication and the institution of a preventive conflict resolution mechanism;
6) The Cree will receive $7 million a year for as long as the dams are in production.
It was signed by Benoit Pelletier, Minster responsible for Native Affairs, Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses, Deputy Grand Chief Paul Gull, Chiefs David Masty, Abraham Rupert, Reggie Mark, Edward Gilpin, Robert Wiestche, Sam Bosum, Robert Kitchen and John Longchap, HQ President and CEO Andre Caille and SEBJ president and CEO Richard Cacchione.
Following the signing, a Chisasibi Square Dancing show was performed and a fantastic meal of goose, moose, beaver and trout was consumed. The Nation would like to extend compliments to the chef for the meal and to the Chisasibi Chief for a great presentation by his community.
Below are excerpts from the speeches.
This historic occasion, the signing of the New Relationship Agreement between Hydro-Quebec, S.E.B.J. and the Crees of Eeyou Istchee is a significant milestone for us all. We hope it will resolve the past unfulfilled obligations. Not only is this agreement the result of the hard work of current negotiators, it is also the culmination of the efforts of many elders and chiefs, Hydro-Quebec personnel, and politicians, who worked on previous negotiations, court cases and agreements leading up to today.
The process leading up to it may have been long and slow, but it shows that with perseverance and open-mindedness, mutual understanding can be reached.
It is a great step forward when major entities like the Quebec government and Hydro-Quebec are willing to take the time to understand the social relationship of the Cree people to their land. This agreement is a sacred pact. It binds the Cree Nations, Hydro-Quebec and S.E.B.J. for as long as the dams exist.
After nearly two years of work and mediation, we are proud to come before you today for the official signing of a memorable agreement between your people and Hydro-Quebec.
It is understood that this agreement is intended to perpetuate the spirit of openness that was demonstrated during the mediation process, and to establish a new relationship between the parties, one that is built on respect for each other’s commitments, responsibilities, and interests.
The fundamental proposition is the recognition of the right of the Crees to ensure the protection and promotion of their culture and their identity.
On the other hand, Hydro-Quebec must be able to acquit the economic and energy-related responsibilities that have been assigned to it. However, accomplishment of its mandate also carries with it the obligation to treat the Crees as genuine partners.
The hour has come to turn the page on the darker moments of the past.
I am convinced that these persons of good will are going down the right path, a path paved with harmony, fidelity towards their concerns and interests, a path paved with success and progress.
The signing of this agreement shows an unwavering commitment to improving the quality of our relationship on the basis of a long-lasting partnership.
Being partners requires, first of all, that the parties reconcile their interests while mutually respecting their respective rights. Hydro-Quebec and the Crees are proving to us that they truly believe this. Above all, they are moving forward together along that path.
We wish to improve family living conditions and offer a better future to Cree youth.
The community of Chisasibi will benefit from tourism assistance and measures to enhance security for the community.
Hydro-Quebec and the Crees are thus settling disputes; namely, regarding the environment. There will be an increase in the control and monitoring of operations at the La Grande hydroelectric complex.
As Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs and Native Affairs, I have confidence in the potential of Cree men and women. They will take up this challenge in a brilliant manner.
The historic agreement we signed two years ago called for openness and mutual respect and provided for a process which would allow us to settle past disputes relating to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
I am honoured to be here with you today to celebrate the successful resolution of the discussions held by the committee whose task it was to find solutions which were fair to both parties.
Together, we will be able to participate in new development projects that will aid our communities and future generations. At Hydro-Quebec, we are aware of how important it is to welcome young people, our successors.
The Quebec youth must be allowed to contribute to the development of their society and to make good use of their talents and enthusiasm.
Therefore, it is important to find job opportunities for them. Hydroelectric development is an ideal instrument for this purpose.
We can build a long-term relationship based on partnership values while respecting Cree culture and way of life.
In 1999, I came to tell you that Hydro-Quebec had changed and that it was ready to take a new approach in its relationship with the Cree. This new relationship would be based on trust and mutual respect.
We have overcome barriers of the past which were preventing us from participating together in true partnership endeavors. Partnerships which will allow our children to have a strong future.
Our road has not always been easy, but through our past difficulties we have learned to know each other better.
Grand Chief Ted Moses
This Agreement represents an important opportunity for our people and Hydro-Quebec to put a difficult part of our history behind us. This does not mean we will not forget the problems of the past. You can be sure we will keep the lessons we have learned and will always be vigilant in the protection of our rights and interests. But it is now time to move forward and to build a new relationship. We may have our differences and we may have difficulties, but we all know that the tide of history has, for better or for worse, tied our destinies together.
Arriving at an agreement that gives us the opportunity to place our 25 years of arguing, pain and fear behind required the efforts of so many, to whom I am very grateful for their commitment.
First, I would like to thank the former Prime Minister of Quebec, Mr. Lucien Bouchard.
Second, I would like to thank the Cree Negotiating team led by Roderick Pachano for their commitment to the mandate.
I would also like to thank the Hydro-Quebec representatives led by Mr. Thierry Vandal
I would like to thank all the chiefs.
I wish particularly to thank the Cree people who, two years ago, had the courage and foresight to support the Cree leadership in taking a bold initiative with the Quebec government and entering into the “Paix des Braves.” This historic decision, this important leap of faith in the future decided by the Cree Nation, has allowed us to now move forward with this new agreement with Hydro-Quebec.
This agreement results in an end to the litigation between the Cree and Hydro-Quebec.
We must build trust where trust has been absent for so long. This will be difficult and will not happen overnight.
The Crees will receive and use an annual amount of $7 million indexed to CPI for the purpose of remedial and mitigation measures and other works and activities. It will flow as long as the Complexe La Grande (1975) is in operation.
Hydro-Quebec is committed to increase access to contracts for Cree enterprises, the agreement sets out a new spirit of reconciliation and partnership with Hydro-Quebec.
We have to be vigilant not to fall into the trappings of the past.
We cannot be naive, we will always have difficult issues and we must be prepared for this.
This is not to say that this community will forget the past. We have to begin healing. This agreement is part of this healing process. If we are to be as strong as our ancestors, we must begin to do what we can to help one another heal.
We must move forward. I want our future to be one of solutions where we focus on solutions to make our lives and the lives of our children safer and better.
We the Crees, have achieved something momentous again. We can do this and we will continue to so this because we are a unified Nation, a strong Nation and a proud Nation.