Important issues and questions have been raised in the recent deal with the provincial government The deal, reported in the last issue of The Nation, covers issues like economic development, infrastructure, services for Elders and “modernization” of the James Bay Agreement.
Some might say this Memorandum of Understanding is possibly only an extension or an interpretation of existing mandates, but the precedent of an unauthorized group ratifying the signing of an agreement on behalf of the Cree Nation is now there.
A Chiefs’ Meeting is not a recognized formal body that is authorized to sign agreements on behalf of the whole Cree Nation of James Bay, which was done in this case. It was always my understanding that these decisions were taken by Council Board meetings of the Grand Council and Cree Regional Authority under specific mandates from the Cree people. I was also under the impression that the Chiefs involved advisors and Band Councillors in their dealings within and outside of the communities.
With the signing, no Band Councils knew of the contents of what was being signed. Indeed most Chiefs themselves only had a few hours to look at the actual text of what was negotiated. One Chief, unable to make it to the meeting, did not even see the text even as it was being signed on behalf of his community.
To me this all raises the question of who represents the Crees as a whole legally. Indeed, given this, is the agreement legally valid? If so it is just the Chiefs of the nine communities and the Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief who count. Also, effectively six people can rule the entire Cree Nation if “majority” rules at a Chiefs’ meeting.
While those questions are important, then what about how do our leaders represent us? I don’t mean for good or bad here. What I am writing in no way lessens my respect for the Chiefs and their service to the Cree Nation in their duties as members of the Nation. The Memorandum of Understanding that was signed may be the best deal the Crees have ever entered into for all I know. In fact some of our communities are in desperate need of infrastructure funding and this agreement will help.
But I am concerned with the lack of debate and foreknowledge on the part of the Chiefs, Councillors and the Cree Nation as a whole. Again I stress this does not mean the deal isn’t good, but why the hurry? Since 1975 the Cree people have been very vocal in their opposition to “take it or leave it” deals coming at the 11th hour sprung on them. In this case surely another week or even a month wouldn’t have meant much when you haven’t been on speaking terms for six years with the provincial government If these negotiations were so important and required such fast action, why weren’t the local Band Councils informed before the Chiefs left for Quebec City. Cree legal advisors didn’t even get a chance to look at the text and point out possible problems. In fact with no prior access to what was being negotiated as it was being talked over between negotiators, no other Cree really got a chance to give input I feel that our elected officials could have debated this issue more considering the possible effects on their respective communities and the Cree relationship with the provincial government.
It all comes down to questions of representation and political process.
These are things we have to look at and define carefully for the Cree future.
See you all at the next Annual General Assembly.