The Mushkegowuk Council has expelled MoCreebec Crees as members, and they are crying foul.

The MoCreebec Band says Mushkegowuk violated its own constitution when it forced out MoCreebec on June 28.

The expulsion took place at a meeting of the council’s Chiefs in Timmins. The move followed heavy pressure from Moose Factory Chief Ernest Beck who claimed MoCreebec was hurting his community’s rights. Four Chiefs voted for the resolution to expel MoCreebec, which had been a member of the council since 1986. Two voted against—MoCreebec Chief Randy Kapashesit and Chief Edmund Metatawabin of Fort Albany.

MoCreebec official Allan Jolly told The Nation that under Mushkegowuk’s constitution, the only way a member band can stop being part of the council is if it votes to leave itself during a community referendum. “They’ve actually violated their own constitution, if that means anything,” said Jolly, who is MoCreebec’s housing and economic development officer.

Moose Factory’s Chief Beck and Mushkegowuk acting chair Dan Kouzy couldn’t be reached for comment.

Before the June 28 meeting, Chief Beck sent Mushkegowuk a letter threatening to pull Moose Factory out of the council if MoCreebec remained as a member.

In an interview with Wawatay News, Chief Beck explained that he objected to the political recognition that went with MoCreebec’s seat on the council. MoCreebec doesn’t have official band status or reserve land and is not part of Treaty #9, which local First Nations signed in 1905.

“If our tribal council recognized them, then so would Ontario and Canada,” Chief Beck told Wawatay News.

Such recognition could hurt Moose Factory’s rights on their traditional lands, Chief Beck added. “The position of our members is that this is our traditional land and that any agreements we negotiate with Ontario and Canada will benefit our First Nation members. We should not be expected to share what we gain out of those agreements,” he said.

“One thing that we tried to put across to the other Chiefs is that as signatories to the treaty, we’ve been given certain rights and privileges. More emphasis should be given to that fact—it’s the basis for our arguments to be self-governing.”

The Mushkegowuk Council represents five west-coast James Bay Cree First Nations. MoCreebec is the name adopted by east-coast James Bay Crees who moved to Moose Factory and Moosonee in the late 1950s and 1960s, mostly from Waskaganish, Eastmain and Wemindji. Some moved in search of work, others because theirchildren were attending the residential school in Moose Factory or because that’s where the regional hospital was. Many just found it nearer to their traditional hunting grounds and found it simpler to deal with the Hudson’s Bay post there.

Today, 1,000 to 1,100 east-coasters live in the Moose Factory/Moosonee area, which has a total population of about 5,000. Most MoCreebec members are still registered with their bands in Quebec, and are beneficiaries of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, even though they were never asked to ratify it.

No rights?

Allan Jolly himself moved to the west coast from Waskaganish in 1958 to go to school with his brother. His dad went to school there also. Jolly said the biggest reason east-coast Crees moved west is “the nomadic lifestyle of the Crees.” Even

when he was in Waskaganish, he said, he lived mostly in the bush and was hardly ever in the community. After he moved to the west coast, he was invited to hunt near Flannah Bay, at the mouth of the Harricana River.

Jolly said it was the Mushkegowuk Council that asked MoCreebec Crees to become members in the first place. MoCreebec had been trying to get recognized as a separate band under the Grand Council of the Crees when negotiations fell apart in Oct. 1985. Right afterwards, Jolly said MoCreebec was courted by the Mushkegowuk Council chairman, who “was adamant” that MoCreebec become a member. MoCreebec agreed, and its membership was approved by the Mushgewuk Council General Assembly in March 1986. The vote approving MoCreebec’s membership was unanimous except for then-Moose Factory Chief Ernie Sutherland, who abstained.

“Over the years, there’s never been any major complaint until this new Chief and Council [in Moose Factory] got in,” said Jolly.

He said Moose Factory is now demanding that MoCreebec members get permission before they go hunting. “They think we shouldn’t have any right to do anything in this area—we shouldn’t be entitled to anything; we shouldn’t start any business projects; we shouldn’t even get any government funding.”