It was the first time in the Cree-Naskapi Commission’s history that it would be appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
At the end of the meeting, Member of Parliament Joe Finaly said he would be willing to draft and present legistlation to be brought before Parliament to recognize Ouje-Bougoumou as a band. Guy St. Pierre, chairman of the standing committee and Liberal MP for the Ungava region, said, “Do it Mr. Finaly, I’ll support you.” The Cree-Naskapi Commission’s latest report pointed out that the recognition of the Ouje-Bougou-mou people as a band with allocated lands has been ignored year after year.
Finaly said legistlation could be drawn up in a week. Richard Saunders, head of the commission, recommended Ouje-Bougoumou be contacted to assist him.
Finaly said he has heard these complaints like those that fill the commission’s report time and time again from First Nations across the land. “It’s like we keep the mill grinding over and over,” he said.
Philip Awashish, another Cree-Naskapi Commission member, echoed Saunders saying previous reports on the lack of funding for the Cree-Naskapi Commission haven’t been acted upon in “any meaningful or positive way.”
Asked Awashish, “If we are an advisory body why isn’t any advice acted upon?” Robert Kanatewat agreed, saying, “What we gather falls on deaf ears.”
MP Guy St. Pierre, committee chairman, was concerned with the high rates of diabetesand health in the Cree communities, as well
the lack of housing. Awashish agreed, saying the severe shortage has forced Crees to spend their own money because of living conditions. St. Pierre invited the Cree-Naskapi Commission to call on the standing committee more often.
Another issue that sparked interest was that of the off-shores islands claimed by the Crees. The islands are being transferred to Nunavut, the new territory.
Kanatewat told the MPs one of the islands being included in Nunavut was the home of a Waskaganish trapline. He felt the return of the islands into Cree hands shouldn’t be a problem. “Inuit won’t mind.”
A Bloc Québécois MP was interested in the Cree situation, saying Quebec feels a few of the islands being handed out were closer to Quebec territory than Nunavut’s.
Saunders said the Cree islands are traditional territory even it they weren’t covered under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
For a while, the commission hit a snag when being questioned about why it lacks documented proof concerning problems with funding of the Cree bands. One MP wanted to know why the commission had never audited a Cree community. “How do we know if the money is being spent in the right way?” he asked.
Saunders said the lack of sufficient funding and resources for the commission makes this type of verification impossible.
The MP replied, “(If) you can’t prove anything, this may be why your recommendationsaren’t being acted upon.” He then asked if Saunders felt an audit of the Cree
bands would be a good way to prove
the claims presented to the MPs. Saunders said, yes.