The Agreement-in-Principle isn’t a large document. It certainly isn’t as many pages as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It will, nevertheless, have as great an impact on Cree lifestyle, culture and way of life as the JBNQA.
The purpose of the Agreement seems clear enough. In layman’s terms it takes the responsibility of implementing certain sections of the JBNQA out of Quebec’s hands and makes them the responsibility of the Cre.es. These sections include economic and community development obligations. But what does that mean?
Economic development in the Agreement’s terms means funding the operations and programs of the:
A) Cree Trappers Association. This will certainly help out the CTA, as it has been one of the most cash strapped organizations in the Cree world. Some people have even said that the boys at the CTA should take over some of the budgets since they know how to stretch a dollar and make the best use of it. The question then becomes how much will it cost to fund the CTA each year? Will it be at the levels that Cree negotiators were pushing for with the Quebec government?
B) Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association. The setup of such an organization has been looked at seriously for the past couple of years. On November 20-21 is the inaugeral members meeting.
C) Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association. This is a much needed infrastructure for the Cree. It could provide the means whereby a Cree cottage industry is created and maintained.
D) Economic Development Agent. Each community has at least one person. It is not known if the responsibilities and functions of the agents will increase with the creation of the Cree Development Corp.
E) Assistance to Cree entrepreneurs. This is a vital function that is needed in the Cree communities, as the economic base is too small at the moment to hire a lot of people. Investing in our own people will increase that base. Now the question here is criteria and funding priorities for Crees to start or expand businesses. Another question is how much money will be allocated for this area.
Community development in the Agreement means:
i) Permanent water supply at Eastmain.
ii) Supply of electricity to Waskaganish and Whapmagoostui. After the fire at Whapmagoostui power plant (diesel generators) this is good news. However the Agreement is vague about when this will take place. It merely says as soon as Hydro-Quebec (HQ) deems it to be feasible. It could never be considered feasible or tied to development of the Great Whale River. It should have a timeline of some sort, the same as the delivery of electricity to Waskaganish will be done in five years.
iii) Job training programs for Crees to work at JBEC and HQ. One of the biggest stumbling blocks at HQ is the written French test. Even people who call French their first language have trouble with the test. This would allow us to see the completion of the 1986 La Grande Agreement, which promised 150 jobs by 1996. Hopefully the types of jobs that Crees could train for will not be limited as in the past. It should be clearer in the sense that the there should be access to all types of jobs.
iv) Study of implementation of the training program. One would think that both HQ and the Grand Council/CRA have already done the preliminary work on this one so it shouldn’t cost too much money otherwise we would just be paying consultants to regurgitate the same reports as before.
v) Training programs or facilities, offices, job recruitment and placement services. I would like to see the plans or ideas for this one. Jobs for the Cree people are an important issue. Due to past agreements not being fully implemented or funding held back because of Cree stances/lawsuits and whatnot, we have seen a sharp drop in Cree employment. It is a problem that every Cree leader has to deal with. A detailed study was done on potential Cree jobs, but it hasn’t been readily available or used. Hopefully this will answer some of those needs. High unemployment rates create social unrest. Studies have shown that a rate of 15 per cent or more leads to this, a factor that may have been taken into consideration when drafting this Agreement. Before the document is signed I hope we will see some plans, as it will give an idea of planning and costs.
vi) Cree community centers. Given the high costs of construction in the north this will likely be a multi-year project. Estimates run as high as $8-10 million per center, not including yearly operational and upkeep dollars. This means close to $100 million for all nine Cree communities.
vii) Essential sanitation services. Mistissini spent about $1 million doing work on the existing service and could have used more. Most of the Cree communities are in the same boat. With one of the fastest growing populations in Quebec, services will have to be expanded and there will be no choice in this as the service is essential. The question here is how much will it initially cost to get all nine Cree communities up to standard. Then estimate the cost of maintenance, replacement of services and new construction to meet the needs of a growing community in the context of 50 years of planning. This would apply to other services as well.
viii) Fire protection including training, equipment and facilities. Costs would vary as some communities are better equipped than others and the age of existing equipment varies. All communities use some sort of volunteer system at the moment and can continue to do so for now. One question is whether or not Crees will be responsible for the water bombers to put out forest fires if they come near the communities. It is one I couldn’t get a clear answer to by talking to people who had been at the Mistissini consultation and this could be a heavy price tag for the Crees depending on the level of services we would have to use and what would be attached to them. You could be looking at rental of airport space, aircraft maintenance, and wages for the crew, and coordinators for the forest fire activities, etc.
ix) Assistance for friendship centers outside the communities. This would apply to Val d’Or and Chibougamou at the least. One question would be on how much the centers are funded by Quebec at the moment. What would be the extent of the present money spent and how much will that increase over the next 50 years to maintain the same type and quality of services that these centers provide?
x) Construction of access roads to Waskaganish, Wemindji and Eastmain. The costs of building roads is huge. Do we have any figures?
There is good news in the fact that the Memorandum Of Understanding Agreements of 1995 and 1998 will be finalized. This means that some of the monies for essential services (i.e. sanitation) will not touch the monies in this Agreement. The promised programs for our Elders and the disabled will happen and this is a good thing.
Another part of the Agreement is that funding will continue as usual for the health and social services, Cree School Board, income security programs, public security and administration of justice and the Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Committee. Currently, the monies coming in for public security and justice are under negotiation as it is under what was promised in the JBNQA. Continuing to negotiate with Canada and Quebec in regards to this shortfall may be difficult.
It also mentions the environmental committees will continue to receive funding. This is confusing as part of the deal says the Crees will assume their share of the committees.
Finally Ouje-Bougoumou will be recognized by Quebec as a Cree community. It has taken a number of years and we all have to wonder why so late? My only question on this matter is where does Canada stand on this? If they refuse to recognize this portion of the Agreement will O.J. be in some kind of legal limbo where it is recognized by two parties but not the third?
Then there is the money. Yes we will finally have the cash to do things. One of them will be the funding of the responsibilities that we will assume. In one way it is a good thing as self-government means that we should assume those responsibilities at some point. The question is whether or not there will be enough money for all the things that are outlined in the Agreement. Another is that the base funding is not indexed to inflation. Remember that scene in Austin Powers when Dr. Evil asks for $1 million dollars and everyone starts laughing. In 50 years will people be laughing at $70 million or crying? True there is a formula that provides for increases based on resource exploitation and this Agreement is the first time that there is some sort of revenue sharing that any government has ever okayed for a Native group. It will be seen by some as a coup and held up as what Native leaders have been saying all along.
The Cree Development Corporation is basically SODAB, or as some called it SOBAD, under a new name. In the Agreement it says that Crees will be economic partners in the economic development in the James Bay territory. It will have a majority Cree presence on the Board. My question here would be, is the choice of directors solely a Cree decision or are there Quebec government appointees? If there are, then this takes away from the self-government image as big brother can still keep an eye on us, so to speak.
Crees will, of course, have access to regular Quebec programs. It would be interesting to know how many have been successfully accessed in the past as to provide some sort of benchmark.
The Mercury Agreement is going to be renewed. While the Mercury Agreement seemed to be ineffectual in the past, with this new openness it may stand a chance of working to the Cree People’s benefit this time. HQ has also been told to resolve past disputes concerning past agreements. Interestingly HQ has a better track record in this department than either the Quebec or Canadian government according to GCCEI/CRA sources.
A new Heritage Fund is contemplated. Hopefully this time around there will be better checks and balances on the monies so it can’t be stripped as it was before.
In the Agreement in Principle “Cree consent” is given for EM1 and the Rupert’s River Diversion to HQ and the province.
Basically this is the cost for the Agreement to happen and it won’t be taken off the table. Even though it has to go through the environmental regime, as defined in the JBNQA, it will get a go ahead without organized Cree opposition. Of course there is no guarantee of Cree silence or opposition in development, as individually we have certain liberties and freedoms that cannot be taken from us by an Agreement. Opposition can always exist on a grassroots level.
It says that Section 28 of the JBNQA concerning SODAB will be repealed, discharged and replaced. This is where most Crees opposed to the Agreement will say they have a legal right to stop it. GCCEI/CRA Annual General Assembly Resolution 2000-25 “Forbids all Cree leaders, councils, entities, advisors or legal counsel from taking any steps that will alter, diminish, terminate, cap or sell JBNQA rights, whether in return for benefits or not.” This would be a reason for a referendum or a community-by-community vote as to repeal or renew that resolution.
Crees will also assume a half share of the operating costs of the provincial environment committees as set out in the JBNQA. I would be interested to see the variable costs. For example, what were the costs in the years that HQ was trying to do the Great Whale Project as opposed to years when there were no HQ projects? Forestry will also be subject to the environmental regime.
Are there estimates on how much this will increase the costs?
Another concern is how much will the cost of funding the environmental regimes and the dollars Cree could get through increased resource exploitation play in true environmental concerns?
Will the Crees sacrifice in order to build infrastructure in the future?
We will not take legal action for past non-action on implementing the JBNQA as concerns Quebec. In fact, a lot of cases will be dropped. Legal action has been costing an arm and a leg. Estimates say up to $9 million would be needed to continue at the current level of action. Some of the cases were way too large to easily go through the provincial courts, let alone all the levels that lead to the Supreme Court. Court cases could have been done on a smaller step-by-step process rather than designing huge cases. It would have been less expensive and easier to terminate. Two immediate questions beg to be answered: what about Canada’s role/decision to continue or stop in some of these cases we are dropping? And what about the Alternative Dispute resolution Process (ADR)? If Canada does not wish to drop the case we will certainly have a stronger argument with Quebec on our side, but the Crees have won against both parties so why can’t Canada? This means the legal costs of those cases could still be with us. The ADR process between Quebec and the Cree needs to be developed and refined. Traditionally governments have ignored ADR and haven’t considered it binding on them. We may just be tying our hands to agree to three years without legal recourse. There needs to be a binding mechanism of some type for this to be effective.
Cree individuals will be allowed to go to the courts if we are poisoned by contaminants as a result of development. I would ask how many Crees are aware of their rights and recourses under the law? You require more than just lawyers, you need scientists and researchers to do a case like this. How many will have the money or the time to undertake such actions? Does this mean that there can be no class action suits? Will an individual court case or class action suit jeopardize the $70 million yearly income?
One of the benefits is a standing liaison committee to ensure the implementation of the Agreement to settle the JBNQA’s implementation. This would be new and could help overcome past problems in implementing such agreements.
This Agreement says it will not affect the Federal Government’s obligations under the JBNQA. Already some government officials look at the Crees as “rich” Natives and block access to funding according to Cree-Naskapi Commission reports and sources within the GCCEI. How much more will they feel justified in the future especially as they have not been involved with this process? Only the future will tell what their reactions will be.
As for the forestry section, overall it is more than I would have expected from the Quebec government. It is the most thought out and comprehensive part of this agreement. I would like to see a few things changed such as a larger no cutting zone on the sides of waterways. These are some of the most productive wildlife zones in the north and need to be protected. The 20 meters is too small. The cutting of one side of the bank leaves the area too open. A 200-meter strip on both sides would be better. I like the tree planting with different types of trees. It is important to maintain a varied forest for animal habitats. Mosaic cutting will certainly be a large improvement over clear cutting practices currently in use. It would be hoped that the land could remain fallow at times to allow wildlife some peace and quiet every now and then. The Cree-Quebec Forestry Board is a great idea. It will at the very least allow us to keep a closer eye on what is happening to the land and one can hope that the Cree presence and expertise in the northern boreal forest environment will be put to good use if the Agreement is signed. In the end, Quebec will have the deciding vote and we will be powerless to stop them, as there is no veto or authority coming from this Board. We will not be able to protest, stop, inhibit or litigate the authorities for atrocities they may commit against the land, the animals or the people.
In short, this agreement needs work. There are good points, such as the revenue sharing and self-government aspects, but there are still many questions that need to be answered and details to be presented to the people. As it stands it is not an ideal agreement but then we all know that no agreement is for both parties. There must be a level of give and take. The question is how much give is there on the Cree side.