The Cree Nation has encountered several conflicts with Hydro-Quebec and the Quebec government. The signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has created many problems. It is supposed to protect our rights but is actually destroying our land, our culture and limiting our integrity to become an independent self-governing Nation.
Our ancestors who have lived and protected the land that we have inherited were people of courage, wisdom, knowledge of life and lived in harmony with all of creation. We as inheritors of our rich culture have the responsibility to defend and enrich our Cree ways for the next generations. In fact, we are too busy learning and practising foreign systems to realize that the governments have succeeded in institutionalizing our systems and assimilating us into mainstream society. What is happening to our Nation?
Before the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement we were considered as savages and our land a waste land. In 1975, when we were forced to sign the agreement, our rights were recognized, if we had any left!
In Section 2.1 of the Agreement it states that James Bay Crees hereby “cede, release, surrender and convey all their native claims, rights, titles and interests, whatever they may be, in and to land in the territory and in Quebec, and Quebec and Canada accept such surrender.” Does this mean we sold our land and our culture for a few million of dollars? Was this the understanding that the people agreed upon?
The JBNQA created three different categories of land. Category III lands are lands that are exclusively owned by the government. Crees have no privileges whatsoever on this land. Category land II are for the preservation of Cree culture and the economy. In particular, Category I lands are exclusively for the use of Crees. This category is the smallest of all categories. However, the government still owns all the land on Cree territory. Was this the understanding of the trappers?
This means that we only have jurisdiction over Category I lands, which does not even include the water near the communities. For Category II and III lands, forestry and mining companies can build mines and cut trees wherever they want without the consent of the Cree trappers. For example, in the region of Waswanipi all of Category III and II lands have been given to forestry companies for their exclusive use. These companies clearcut all or most of the traplines without the consent of trappers or the community. How could the trappers agree to this?
Presently, even when trappers inform the companies not to cut in certain areas, they continue to do so. Land was set aside for our culture and economy but is being clearcut and mined with no environmental assessments or Cree consent. What does this mean to the Cree Nation?
What is happening to our land, to our trappers and the disappearance of our trees, along with our culture? What can we do to protect out land, our culture and our nation?
Are we going to take the Quebec government and the forestry companies to court in order to stop the destruction of our land? If there is a court case, how much is it going to cost, or by the time the case comes to a verdict will there be any trees left? Do we have the right to withdraw from the agreement since the government is not living up to its promises or do we simply declare an independent self-governing nation and take whatever necessary action? What to do next?
Chiask is a Cree youth from Waswanipi.