The James Bay Municipality (JBM) has issued a warning to Chisasibi’s Cox family – halt construction on your winter camp; it’s on land we’re renting from the Minister of Natural Resources (MNR).
“It didn’t actually explain why,” said Josie Cox, a spokesman for his family. “It just said to stop construction.”
The problem arose when the Cox family started to build a winter camp on their trapline, VC-4. They soon received a notice on one of the cabins telling them to desist, or face penalties. The camp was also part of a soon-to-be larger tourism operation that would attract visitors to a tourist-oriented cultural camp.
“It’s the traditional territory of the Cox family,” said Eric House, General Manager of the Chisasibi Business Services Centre, which is helping the Cox family set up their enterprise. “We’re allowed to hunt and fish and build anywhere (in Eeyou Istchee). That’s recognized in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.”
“The Chisasibi Business Service Centre is helping them with funding through tourism Canada and trying to access information to start a kind of living cultural centre. They will be training people to learn the Cree culture and also cater to the tourism coming into the area such as wilderness walks.”
The company is a newer version of Radisson’s stalled Chiiaanu Tourism Company and will go by the same name with the same partner, Sylvain Paquin. There is no name for the cultural camp as of yet.
The issue was brought to Chisasibi Chief Abraham Rupert and his council and they passed a resolution in support of the family in the beginning of the year. A band council meeting after this issue went to press was to decide whether to mandate the Grand Council to look into the matter and help fight it as a Cree rights issue, not just a local one.
“It’s better if it’s given to the Grand Council because if we solve it, it would apply everywhere, it would not be just a single case issue,” said Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council. “We’d take a panoramic view, not just one situation.”
Cox said the issue doesn’t discourage him. “It didn’t bother me, I just figured I’m going to do what I have to do,” he said. “No white man is going to stop me from building my traditional camp.”
He speculated that the notice is a tactic of jealous locals set up to irritate Cree tallymen. “It’s pretty unusual, I think it’s intimidation and harassment. They think we’ll get intimidated and do something illegal against them so they can do something legal against us. We’ve had a lot of incidence of harassment with the non-natives.”
“In one incident, a helicopter last week flew very low over the camp. The vibration took down a panel on one of them and the chimney got ripped off,” he said. “For some reason they were hovering over the camp for quite a while,” said Cox, who added he has obtained the name of the pilot and is looking into what can be done.
“In another incident, someone shot through the window (with a gun). It’s a good thing no one was there or someone would have got hurt,” said a frustrated Cox.
Serge Fortier, Municipal Inspector for the James Bay Municipality, said the JBM is renting the land from the Ministry of Natural Resources. It used to be a campground called Camping des Pins. It has since been torn down, but the JBM retained the rights from the MNR to use the land.
“We would be willing to let the lease go on the land, but we have not talked to the Cox family,” said Fortier. He told the Nation that the JBM pays $239.27 annually to the MNR for the former site of the Camping des Pins (about 6,000 square metres).
It is on the Cox family trapline but the Ministry of Natural Resources can and has issued permits for these types of activities, without the consent of the Crees. They’ve also issued permits to non-native hunters, or squatters, as they are known, against the wishes of the Crees. It is a grey area that has not been addressed by the Grand Council until now.
“This is a test case,” said a Cree source with knowledge of the conflict. “It will help us to sit down and negotiate with Quebec if we have an actual case to use as an example.”
JBM’s Stephane Simard, Communications Director told the Nation that the lease ends on May 31, 2006. “We will let go of the lease on May 31 if the MNR allows,” he said. “There might be a problem because there is already infrastructure on it, but we’ll see what the MNR says.” He did not clarify what the problem would be.
He considered the matter closed, pending verification from the MNR. “Our Inspector was just doing his job when he put the notice up last fall,” said Simard.
Chisasibi Business Centre’s Eric House said that whatever the case, it’s interfering with business. “We’re trying to start a tourism company called Chiiaanu on their territory,” he said. “We put together a few people, mainly Sam Cox, Josie Cox and Sylvain Paquin, who’s helping them with logistics. We’re already going ahead.”
The Cox family has done everything to the letter up till this point. “There was an old SCNO (Société de conservation du Nord-Ouest) camp on kilometre 551 on the highway. The band bought it for $25,000 from them and they in turn purchased it from the band,” said House.
Cox said that the family has talked to a lawyer and will not tolerate harassment on his trapline any longer. It’s bad enough he said, that there are 21 squatters’ cabins on his family’s traditional land and no one seems to be doing anything about it.
“There are a lot of non-native camps going up on Duncan Lake,” he said. “It was mentioned at a general assembly to the Grand Council. Nothing was ever done. I told them I think it’s time we do something about the invasion of non-natives onto the traditional traplines. Eventually we’ll be so overwhelmed we won’t be able to do anything.”
Grand Chief Matthew Mukash said his council is in full support against any new squatters’ camps. “A supreme court decision a few years back said that any developer must get consent to build from the Aboriginal people. The government (or individuals) has ‘a duty to consult and accommodate’ are the terms the Supreme Court uses.”
As far as the notice put on the camp by the JBM, Mukash was not swayed. “We have a say in what happens within our territory whether it’s development or laws that apply,” Mukash affirmed. “We need to sit down with the Quebec government to scope out the extent of these problems and move to find a solution.”
“There is a question as to the powers of the James Bay Municipality to enact laws on category three lands,” he continued. “That has yet to be tested in the court. The Cox family needs our support and if we have to go to the courts to decide who has the authority over the area in question, we will.”