The Agreement-in-principle was one of the most closely guarded secrets in Quebec. At this point it’s difficult to discern everything it could mean for the Cree. Upon reading it, I will say I have reservations about the deal, especially because of the Rupert River diversion, among other issues.
But the crux of the matter for me is the idea that the chiefs can sign on our behalf without a vote or some other mechanism whereby the Cree people as a whole will manifest their will.
Ted Moses in his interview (page 10) said he would have no problem with a referendum but seemed to waffle on whether there would be one or not. He has stated there would be a consultation process but in reality that means almost nothing. It means he will be talking to people and taking a few questions. It doesn’t address whether or not a mandate by the people is given to sign the deal.
The reason I bring this up is someone in the office mentioned that a chief had said they could sign on the people’s behalf because they were elected to do so. Yes there is signing authority granted to the position of a leader but it only morally extends so far.
Consider if Premier Landry, in his vision for an independent Quebec, just said, ‘‘You elected me and you knew I was a separatist so we are going to separate immediately.” It didn’t happen because he and his party knows the importance of a legitimate mandate to separate requires not only the political will but also the will of the people by way of a referendum. In the meantime they still sign deals with the Federal Government on health and other issues.
In this way the Agreement-in-principle is something that requires more than just the political will of the chiefs. It requires the will of the Cree people as a whole. This is not a day-to-day or year-to-year Agreement, it is a three-to-four generation Agreement. It is one that will effectively kill another river and directly impact three communities. It is one that if not honoured in full will leave us more vulnerable than before. It promises great things, and like the JBNQA and other agreements we have entered into the past, has the potential for a positive impact.
But it cannot be a decision made by a few who will decide what is best for us. That mentality went out with the Indian Agent even though Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault seems to be trying to revive it with his own round of consultation talks. If the Cree leadership has said his method of consultations concerning Native Governance is wrong then so is this Cree consultation process if there is no mechanism where the Cree people and not just the Cree leadership can vote on this issue. Anything else smacks of hypocrisy.
This is the message we have to pass on to our leaders: We deserve a say in determining the future of Eeyou Istchee just as much as they do. The Cree people are not content to be an audience to a decision on our future. We demand and require full participation in all such far-reaching matters.