First, thank you for publishing our family’s earlier “Letter to the Editor” on The Nation’s webpage on August 4, in which we presented our proposal for a resolution concerning section 3.2.7 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) or “the 10-year clause.” Secondly, thank you to my fellow Eeyouch/Eenouch, for voting to pass the proposed resolution at the Annual General Assembly in Waswanipi on August 7, 2014.
To many of you who individually approached my family and I to express their support and encouragement, thank you. Your shared concerns touched us and confirmed that this issue is one that affects many of our families. It is rewarding to know that our efforts will ensure that other Cree youth are not wrongfully denied post-secondary education assistance or other rights or benefits guaranteed by the JBNQA.
However, the follow-up article (Looking for resolution, Vol. 21, No. 22) in the September 5 edition of the Nation contains several errors. It falsely states that Jenna and I maintain close ties to Mistissini and that my parents still live there. In fact, our ties are with Chisasibi. My surname is “Willis Newton,” not “Newton.” Also, Jenna did not claim that her grandparents are unable to speak Cree. Her grandparents, Janie and Roderick Pachano, are fluent Cree speakers. The Corporate Secretary of the Grand Council of the Crees (of Eeyou Istchee)/Cree Nation Government (GCC(EI)/CNG) is referred to as the “Commerce Secretary.” The Chairperson of the Cree School Board (CSB) is Kathleen Wootton, not “Wooten.”
The story also fails to make some important points. For example, the author fails to challenge Ms. Wootton’s position that an amendment of the 10-year clause is necessary in order for the CSB to provide post-secondary financial assistance to Cree beneficiaries who have not been absent from the Territory during 10 continuous years. A reading of the 10-year clause supports the interpretation that Cree beneficiaries who are domiciled outside Eeyou Istchee remain entitled to their rights and benefits under the JBNQA unless they are “absent from the Territory during 10 continuous years.”
Ms. Wootton’s statement that the CSB will continue to stick to its restrictive policy on the 10-year clause, regardless of the resolution adopted at the General Assembly, is troubling. The CSB should be accountable to the members of the Cree Nation Government. Her stance that the CSB must restrict the number of Crees who receive post-secondary funding because Quebec and Canada will cut the program if they do not is without merit. Canada and Quebec have an obligation to continue to provide and fund the Cree School Board’s post-secondary program under sections 16.0.22 and 16.0.24 of the JBNQA. This is a constitutionally protected treaty right.
Ms. Wootton’s explanation that the Grand Chief and Corporate Secretary assured her that the resolution is simply “a nonbinding recommendation” is also very concerning. I hope it is not true. I hope that when our Grand Chief publicly stated that he supported the resolution before it was voted on that he meant what he said and, even if he didn’t, that he will act responsibly and carry out the mandate of his people.
According to the article, Acting Chief Allan Jolly’s experience with past General Assembly resolutions is that they are often ignored. I was very discouraged when two former Cree Chiefs told me the same thing immediately after the General Assembly. I want my daughters and other youth who witnessed self-government in action at the General Assembly to believe that we the people have a real role in our nation building.
The people have spoken. By its plain terms, the resolution “mandates” the Board of the GCC(EI)/CNG to adopt the uniform interpretation of the 10-year clause set out in the resolution and to take prompt steps to work with the CSB and other entities to ensure those agencies implement the uniform interpretation.
The Board must understand that ignoring the resolutions passed by our people is no longer an option. In this new era of self-government, we expect more and will accept no less.
Joanne Willis Newton