MoCreebec is going to court over the James bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. They don’t like provision 3.2.7, which says that after ten years out of the territory, Crees lose their rights. They say they have lived in Moosonee or Moose factory long before the JBNQA was signed and that it is part of the traditional territory of the Cree. They say they weren’t consulted before the Agreement was finalized and this is a problem.
MoCreebec wants to know if the way the section in question as upheld by the Grand Council of the Crees, the Cree communities and the Cree entities is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section 3.2.7 says after ten years any Cree who lives outside the territory is inactive and ineligible for any and all benefits under the JBNQA. The result is that many individuals living in Moosonee, Moose factory and elsewhere, are affected by this clause in spite of being James Bay Crees. Students have had to apply for financial assistance from any place but the Cree School Board because of this clause. Others have run into difficulty when it comes to health care needs. People are being required to pay for their prescriptions, eye-care and routine healthcare needs that are provided free to other beneficiaries.
The MoCreebec community say they have not filed a lawsuit against the Crees, however, the legal interpretation request does require the naming of those who signed the agreement that contains section
3.2.7. This includes the federal government, the provincial government and the Grand Council of the Crees.
MoCreebec Chief Randy Kapashesit stated that “It is not our intention, nor our goal to be seen as suing fellow Crees, and it is not the case. We are bringing forward a matter that we feel is in need of attention. It speaks not just to the Cree component, but ultimately to the federal and provincial government in terms of their role. Certainly the signatories of the agreement are ultimately responsible for responding to the situation that’s there.”
This is the result of a twenty-year disagreement. MoCreebec said they do not see any willingness on the part of past and current leadership of the Cree people to resolve this matter internally. This is why they have initiated these legal proceedings.
“Whether people realized it or not, when the agreement was signed, life changed for all of us, because we entered into agreements with government. We entered a new stage in terms of how we relate to each other because now it’s not just up to us, governments have a direct say on it.” says Kapashesit. Initially the Crees did not want this clause in the agreement but were persuaded to keep it.
Spokesperson for the Grand Council of the Crees, Brian Craik acknowledged there are problems with the section. “There are a number of people in the Cree camp who don’t like that clause and who would like to have it modified. But how exactly it should be modified is something the Crees have to look at. Maybe the Crees should be the ones who look after the beneficiary list.”
Kapashesit feels confident there will be a favourable decision. “If we could make the argument successful, the end result would be that the court would agree that section 3.2.7, the way it is being applied, is inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And that would ultimately, or hopefully, result in a new way of looking at that whole section. It would affect everyone who is considered a beneficiary.”