You’ve come out as being opposed to the Agreement-in-Principle that was signed between the Cree leadership and Quebec Premier Landry on October 23,2001. Why?
Yes, and in doing so I believe I have broken the oath of impartiality. I am taking many risks. But first I want to state that whatever comes out of this interview is done with due respect and without prejudice to anyone, leader, or government. I anticipate that I may very strongly be challenged for the statements I will make in this interview. I want to make that clear.
Why did you decide to announce your opposition at this time? Why not at the time when the AIP was presented to the Chiefs in Montreal the week before the announcement?
There were certain questions that I asked myself. I honestly did not know whom to turn to for answers. So I decided to wait.
What were the questions you were asking yourself?
There were many. One of them was whether or not the AIP would be binding once it’s signed in that the Cree Nation would not have a choice but to vote on a final agreement within a limited time-frame. The other one was whether or not we would be overstepping the authority of the General Assembly which, legally, is the authority to which all our institutions, including the GCCEI/CRA Council/Board – report to.
When you made that announcement to the GCCEI/ CRA Council/Board, the reaction from the Grand Chief/Chair was immediate and you were told that you could oppose all you want but not to expect to use or access the resources of the GCCEI/CRA, and that you stood alone. What happened?
The point I wanted to make at that meeting was that, remembering the oath of impartiality, I felt that the process to promote the AIP was biased in that we were asking everyone to play along. I told the meeting that it was obvious that those who oppose felt they were put down or brushed aside. The reaction from the meeting confirmed my point. I am really sorry that this happened. As any human being would have done, I left the meeting. I was much later informed that the matter of our Nation’s resources had been clarified at that meeting.
The Nation also learned that at that meeting you were accused of staging the protest that apparently took place during the consultation meeting in Nemaska. Would you like to comment on this one?
What I can say about this – is this: “I am innocent until proven guilty.” (laugh) I would rather not dwell on these kinds of questions. I want to make that clear. There are other more important issues at hand here.
Could you tell us the reasons you oppose this Agreement?
Indeed. I am not only concerned about this proposed new agreement but I am concerned about the overall question of our future as a people and our homeland.
What we are dealing with, today, is what our ancestors have been dealing with since Day One of the contact with foreigners – the spirit of “colonization” and the effect of “oppression” that comes with it. There is a plan by governments to eventually take full control and occupy Eeyou Istchee. This is a fact. Unfortunately, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) spills out the road map for this eventual takeover. We have to take a very serious look at this matter as a nation.
I feel that we are binding ourselves to a process that aims to restrict our freedom to exercise our sovereign authority as peoples over Eeyou Istchee.
How is the JBNQA a road map for governments to eventually take full control over Eeyouch and Eeyou Istchee?
When I first learned of the agreement, I thought that it could be a good agreement if our people were willing to let go of the volume of resources they were required to sacrifice. But when I found out that it was going to be another complimentary agreement to the JBNQA, I lost interest. The concept of “extinguishment” began to plague me, again.
You see, what our advisors don’t tell us is this: for the governments, “extinguishment” is very real. It’s a way to establish, over time, full control, authority and jurisdiction over aboriginal lands. The way it works is that it does not serve its purpose until full implementation takes place of the treaty or agreement in which it exists. It’s an illusory concept that does not really exist in our sense of reality or at the level of Eeyou wisdom. Once the full implementation process is complete, full colonization has taken place. After that, there is likely an attempt by governments to introduce legislation that eliminates the concept of Aboriginal lands, rights, title and identity. This is what Pierre Trudeau attempted to do when he introduced the White Paper in 1969. He suggested that every Aboriginal person be considered and treated as any other Canadian citizen.
If we do not do anything about what’s going on, if we just continue to ride on this wave of illusion of future prosperity or the illusion of generosity of governments, our future generations could end up with the eventual consequences of losing their language, culture and identity. They will be the ones to pay for our mistakes. Why do you think there was residential school? They wanted to disconnect us from the land, make us lose our language, our cultural beliefs, values, and most of all, to damage our spirit. Why do you think there is extinguishment?
What is your biggest concern with respect to this agreement?
I fear that if we do not bother to look to the possible technicalities of the whole matter at hand and we do not bring it back to the General Assembly, we could be setting a dangerous precedent for the future. I know that the people at Whapmagoostui are asking themselves: Will the same thing happen with respect to the Great Whale diversion scheme? What if we say “no” and we get out-voted by other communities? There are many, in my view, too many uncertainties.
What’s going to happen from here on?
I think that unless we concentrate on the big picture, that what we are faced with is the on-going process of “colonization” and the effect of “oppression” that comes with it – we are going to destroy ourselves. Oppression is inter-generational and plays a huge role in our reactions to the actions of governments, our leaders, and it’s very damaging. The most overpowering effect is fear. Fear is the greatest tool of the colonizer. Its effect is the following: you get a sense of worthlessness, helplessness, depression, paranoia, distrust, sleeplessness, unable to focus at home, in the workplace, harassment, anger, breaking up friendships, relationships, divisions within families, churches, leadership and so on. It is very damaging, and we are its victims. Quebec must be laughing really hard now.
Well, there is a saying that goes something like this: “The greatest tool of a colonizer is the mind of the colonized.” You know, its ironic that its not Hydro-Quebec, the forestry companies or the mining companies we fought so hard and even brought to court that are promoting the construction of dams, forestry or mining. Think about it.
One of my greatest concerns is in the way we always tend to overlook the most important group in our society, those members who still actively practice our culture and the traditional way of life and, particularly, our own Elders. I truly feel for those families who are still out on the land knowing that they might lose part or all of their trap line and even the sites in which their loved ones may be buried.
We seem to be applying the concept of “balance of inconvenience” against our own people, a concept that favours the needs of the greater number of people versus the smaller group. Didn’t we once argue that it was those who were actively practicing our culture on the land that made the JBNQA possible? What happened to us?
Do you think that the final agreement will be ratified?
It’s really up to the people. A big commitment is required of us by Quebec. Our Nation must be well educated in order to make an informed decision on this proposed new agreement. That’s all I can say about that.
How would you have proceeded if you had been the Grand Chief? Would you have taken a different approach?
I can’t answer these questions. I believe every leader is different and has his or her way of leading. When I was Chief, I could have told my people at Whapmagoostui that the governments and Hydro-Quebec were too powerful and that we could not stop Great Whale. Some people did believe this. But I had total faith that it could be stopped and sure enough it was shelved. It might be not dead yet, but the river still runs free today as it has for millennia. The power is in having faith. If you have faith, Tsey-manitou, God, does the rest for you.
What I do want to say is this, however, regarding the secrecy of the negotiations: if Premier Landry could not trust his own people not to mention the deal to the media, then what kind of a government is he running that they must hide a deal that would bring about economic benefits to the people who elected them? There is something wrong about this.
Do you think that the Quebec Government people were more informed than the Cree chiefs?
You know, it is curious that Mr. Landry received a standing ovation when he announced the AIP to his government. No, this is a deal that most probably was carefully crafted over a long period of time, with the participation of many legal advisors to the government, including the ministry of justipe. Of course, this is just speculation.
What about our advisors, do you think that they knew long before it was even brought to the Chiefs?
I would be speculating again if I were to answer that.
What do you think of use of the terms “nation-to-nation” in the AIP? Could this be an attempt by Quebec to have the Cree Nation recognize it as a “nation” for the purpose of self-determination?
Absolutely, and the price is $3.5 billion and much more! You know, I am not a lawyer, but I do know that in 1983, the Quebec National Assembly passed a resolution in the Quebec Parliament, recognizing Aboriginal Nations in Quebec as “nations”. But they narrowed down the concept of ‘aboriginal nation’ to the equivalence of a municipal authority. They said something to the effect that Aboriginal nations could exercise self-government within the framework of Quebec legislation, and only within lands allocated to them. The resolution further stated that Aboriginal nations could not be recognized as sovereign nations because Quebec has to protect its territorial integrity. What does that tell us Eeyouch? We can only exercise self-government within Category I lands. And if Quebec goes, we go! Let’s not forget also, any agreement that we sign with Quebec gives legitimacy to the fate of other Aboriginal nations in the province. On our part, I do not recall a General Assembly Resolution recognizing Quebec as a “nation.” I think we have to be very careful.
What is the alternative?
First of all, I believe that for the record there are some clarifications to be made with respect to AIP. For instance, did we do the right thing not bringing back the Agreement to the General Assembly? I did suggest that we do this at the last Council/Board meeting, which took place in Montreal. I am also hearing the phrase “conflict of interest.”
Because of the magnitude and complexity of the issues involved, it seems imperative to get direction from the highest authority of our Nation, the General Assembly.
Otherwise, the issue of trust could go out of proportions.
The Alternative? The alternative is not more money. That will come in time. There will be another deal. We have to realize that we, the Eeyouch, are sitting on trillions and trillions worth of natural resources in the last untouched wilderness of North America, and the whole world will be after them in the future. We are sitting on a gold mine. This is why governments do not want to recognize us as a sovereign nation for the time being. They are certainly buying time. They are very gradually moving into our homeland and in a very subtle way. It’s very hard to notice. It begins with “partnerships,” “new relationship,” “nation-to-nation relationship,” “new agreements with billions promised over 50 years,” partnership in tourism,” “new development corporation,” and on and on. We have been stripped of our freedom to express ourselves as a people, our freedom to exercise sovereign authority. As long as our only goal is to implement the JBNQA, which to me is detrimental and restrictive of our development and our evolution over time as peoples, we will continue box ourselves in or remain in this political straight jacket that we are tied in. We are the only ones who can free us, but we must have a very strong will! We have to wake up! Nobody else is going to place us as equals with other nations in the world but us. Only we can do that, with much determination and faith in Tsey-manitou. We have to formally affirm and declare our sovereignty, our sovereign power, authority and jurisdiction over Eeyou Istchee. Our sovereign power has always been there. It always stayed with us. We did not see it because of the blinding and detrimental effect of “oppression,” a product of what I call the beast, “colonization.” We must put this in the hands of Tsey-manitou. We must affirm our sovereignty in a Declaration. We are preparing this right now. It will be presented to Eeyouch soon. Let’s wait before we sign any more agreements with any governments until we have formally proclaimed Declaration on our sovereignty under the Sacred Law, Eeyou Customary Law and Eeyou Philosophy. We can then negotiate a new Treaty that establishes all the kinds of relationships, partnerships that we want with other peoples and their governments. The golden opportunity is now! That is my position.
Is there something you will like to say to the people who elected you? I believe that Tsey-manitou, Our Creator, Our Provider, Our Protector, Our Very Essence has put this Agreement before us for a reason. It is a wake up call, a call to protect the Earth and much more. We are the last peoples to understand humanity’s connection to the Earth in a sacred way. We have a sacred duty and responsibility to humanity. Our Elders tell us that in order to truly know Tsey-manitou, God, one must know one’s sacred connection to the Earth. If you want to take something from the Earth Mother, they say, you must ask the One who created her. And once given, then you give gratitude. That is the Eeyou Way! For 500 years these teachings have received but a deaf ear and a blind eye from the colonizers. But look carefully at what is happening in the world today. Our nation must be the “Agent of Change” in humanity’s journey of self-discovery.
Listen…. the fishes, the little ones on the land, the animals, the birds, the rocks, the little creeks, the lakes, the rivers, the falls, the trees that remind us of the One Above – all manifestations of the Spirit of Tsey-manitou…listen…they are calling for help!