After six years without formal talks, the Cree Chiefs and Quebec have agreed to sit down at the table together.
Now, says Chief Abel Bosum, Crees have to make sure those negotiations focus on “fundamental” issues important to the entire Cree Nation, not just gains in funding or services.
“Every community varies and they are at different levels in development You have those that have not been able to catch up in housing and infrastructure. And there are those that have difficulty getting some real economic development going,” said Chief Bosum.
In a “Memorandum of Understanding” negotiated by Chief Billy Diamond, Quebec agrees to discuss many outstanding issues—sewers and water distribution, economic development, care of Elders and people with disabilities, revenue-sharing from development projects and reorganizing the SEBJ and SDBJ.
In return, Cree Chiefs temporarily shelved the court fight against the Great Whale River Project Chief Bosum was of two minds about the deal. “We shouldn’t have to negotiate to be eligible for existing programs. If we’re going to negotiate, we should negotiate fundamental issues— jurisdiction, rights and resources,” he said.
“This is why I have difficulty to understand why we have to go through these elaborate negotiations to get these basic things.
“I guess for some of us it didn’t have all the elements that were contained in Ciaccia’s offer,” he added.
That offer, made under the previous Liberal government, included $100 million in economic development funds. Crees rejected it “On one hand, no doubt the timing is probably good to get something out But the big question is, at what price against other issues?” said Chief Bosum.
“I wouldn’t say all the communities have the same emergencies. It (the deal) will help those that have huge problems with infrastructure. But for those that don’t, they have other priorities important to them that are not necessarily contained in the Memorandum of Understanding.”
What the talks achieve will depend on the negotiators, said Chief Bosum—and “their willingness to expand what they see on paper.” Crees will have to make their concerns known to the negotiator for the Cree side, Chief Billy Diamond. “All the Cree communities will have to go through that exercize and table them (their priorities), and hopefully something will come out of it,” said Chief Bosum.
In Ouje-Bougoumou, for example, jobs and the land are the number-one concerns. “We have a very challenging task here to sustain these communities we’re building and to create employment,” he said.
“Our community, what we see as really important is the land issue—mining, forestry. Right now, regulations are not in our favour. We don’t have the financial resources to participate (in resource development) and the natural resources have already been given out So how are Native communities going to participate?”