While the fresh ink on the new framework agreement between the Grand Council of the Crees and the Province of Quebec may have finally dried, the work to create a Final Agreement within one year has just begun.

On May 27, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and Premier Jean Charest finally signed a framework deal that will see greater powers granted to the Crees throughout Eeyou Istchee, and signal the abolition of the Municipalité de la Baie-James (MBJ).

“The fact that it was held at the National Assembly gave it a real significance. And, the fact that Minister Kelley, Minister Corbeil, Deputy Premier Normandeau and, of course, Premier Charest and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs were there, was very significant. It showed the sincerity as did the presence of the Crees,” said Coon Come.

He went on to explain that during the ceremony he was given an expensive pen by Charest, an act that stood out to all of the Crees because of the importance of the moment.

“He said that this pen signifies our friendship and our new beginning. He said he gave me this pen so that I could keep it until we signed a final agreement,” Coon Come added.

The truly historic signing was all about the ending of one process and the beginning of another. For the last year and a half, Coon Come has been negotiating with Quebec to put an end to what he has described as “apartheid in governance”. Beginning with the creation of Bill 40 in 2001, Crees lost the power to govern over Categories II and III lands, which were originally established in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Municipal power instead was given to the MBJ, where it has remained for the last decade. During this era many Crees found themselves being fined for traditional activities on the land, while the MBJ was in charge of economic and natural resource development as well as many other aspects of land governance.

Since he last spoke to the Nation about how this Agreement came about as part of Charest’s ambitious Plan Nord for northern development, Coon Come said he has spent much of his time meeting with the local mayors of the former MBJ to discuss the Crees’ intentions and the formation of a new regional government that will reside over Category III land. He has also met with the natural resource development companies that had signed deals with the MBJ concerning development and leases.

Coon Come explained that the new regional government will be composed of representatives from the Crees and from the municipalities of the James Bay region. This will be the CRÉ-CRA, a government comprised of elected officials and Crees who will exercise the powers of the municipal management with regard to economic development and land and resource planning. This will replace the abolished MBJ and it will be the body that will have governance over Category III lands.

“This will give us an opportunity to develop what the economic development and the resource planning will look like with Cree participation. I guarantee you that there will be some changes.

“The second part was to create a greater Cree autonomy on Category II land. These are the lands on which Crees have exclusive rights for hunting, fishing and trapping as provided for in the JBNQA under section 24. The framework provides that we Crees will exercise powers under Quebec law with respect to municipal management as well as the CRÉ-CRA functions again with regard to economic development and land and resource planning

“So there is transference of powers on Category II land to the Crees and now Crees will have a say in how development takes place. For us, this is very significant and a historic event,” explained Coon Come.

Looking back at the last 18 months of negotiating to establish the Framework deal, Coon Come said it was never something that could have happened between the Crees and the MBJ, it took the province to step up so that these municipal changes could happen.

At the moment Coon Come said there are a significant amount of transfers of power and assets happening from the Société de Développement de la Baie-James to the Cree government on Category II lands and to the new regional government. At the same time, Coon Come will be meeting with the local mayors of the former MBJ almost every second week to complete the task of reaching a final agreement between the Crees, the Quebec government and the Jamesiens.

“I was not going to do this in isolation, having talked about exclusion and then apply that exclusion that was exercised on the Cree to our neighbours, that would have been double talk. But, I knew that to change this governance structures I needed to talk to Quebec. It was they who created Bill 40, who created those entities and they were the ones who were going to change them and so we came up with the recommendations on how to do that,” said Coon Come.