Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come has called on Quebec to shut down the James Bay Development Corporation and other provincial entities operating in the Cree territory.
He made the comments at the October 6 hearing of the National Assembly’s Commission on Development of the Territory, in Quebec City.
The Grand Chief’s point of view didn’t seem to be wholly shared by two Cree chiefs who spoke at the same hearing. Billy Diamond and John Kitchen both advocated closer collaboration with Quebec’s entities in the region, including Hydro-Quebec.
Coon Come told deputies Quebec has to start living up to its promises under past agreements. “First and foremost we demand that the governments of Quebec and Canada work with us to set up the institutional structures as described in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in such a way as to make that effective.
“We do not and will never accept replacement of those fundamental rights by such imposed structures as the regional council or for example the James Bay Development Corporation (SDBJ),” said the Grand Chief.
“We would suggest that Quebec suspend the operations of these other entities,” he said, naming the SDBJ and the Regional Development Council of Northern Quebec.
Anything else would be seen as “an attack on our rights,” Coon Come said. He mentioned the high rate of unemployment in the Cree communities, saying it was as bad as 50 per cent. Coon Come pointed out that there were only five Crees working at Hydro-Quebec, only 0.25 per cent of forestry workers were Cree and in mining it was 5 per cent Cree workers.
Using these stats, Coon Come slams the SDBJ for decrying the prominent place the Crees play in regional development. Coon Come alleges the SDBJ has repeatedly made statements that non-Natives should continue their efforts to occupy the territory.
Next, Coon Come took on Hydro-Quebec’s idea that Crees invest in a future hydro-electric project. While not saying no, he pointed out that the Crees don’t have access to vast quantities of capital. He said the solution may be to recognize the Cree right to develop resources and give Crees a firm purchasing commitment by Hydro-Quebec, which would give Crees the ability to raise capital.
Coon Come also touched on many other issues like economic development, training, revenue-sharing and housing. “We are not begging, or even asking, for access to our lands and resources. It is others who have taken and are continuing to take steps to colonize or dispossess us. This cannot continue.”
Chief Billy Diamond, the head provincial negotiator for the Crees, called for arenewed partnership and creative co-ex-istence between Crees and the government andpeoples of Quebec. He praised the decision by the government to finally build a road to Waskaganish. Diamond said the highway was “the road to opportunity” for Waskaganish. Diamond also said as a chief he has to find 450 new jobs just in his community alone and the road will help.
Diamond added that mini-dams are “one of my favourite topics.” He said building one would be better than continuing to bum diesel at $0.59 per kWh. He cited the harming of the environment and said Waskaganish Is willing to learn the technology to build and operate a low-impact mini-dam. “We are In favour of run-of-the-river projects,” stated Diamond.
After talking about tourism and its potential for the Crees, he gave members of the panel copies of the Waskaganish tourism brochure, saying Crees were doing their share to promote Quebec.
He also proposed that Crees should make “strategic alliances” with Radisson and Matagami. “They (alliances) will soon give greater strength and commitment to our potential financial partners such as Hydro-Quebec and forestry and mining companies.”
Diamond went on to naysay Coon Come’s assertion that the SDBJ is unacceptable forthe Crees. “There is no reason why the SDBJ, for instance, cannot
over time become a Cree development corporation.”
Diamond then echoed some of Coon Come’s words, saying the Crees aren’t afraid of development but demand participation. Diamond reassured Quebec that Waskaganish wasn’t looking for a new road just to block it. This raised a few laughs.
“I think the minister will be happy to hear that,” said one of the deputies.
Chief John Kitchen also addressed the commission, but not as chief of Waswanlpl. He was representing the Northern Quebec Solidarity Fund, set up by the Quebec Federation of Labour and the Quebec government.
The Solidarity Fund is supposed to give grants to help Native and non-Native businesses. But in its year and a half of existence, it hasn’t given any grants to Native businesses yet, Kitchen admitted. Still, he saw the fund as a good example of the “partnerships” needed in the North.
Instead of abolishing the SDBJ, Kitchen seems to favour reforming it to give Native people more of a say in Its operations.
Asked if Crees and Hydro-Quebec should make a partnership, Kitchen said the potential is there.
“There are partnerships between the Crees, Inuit and Hydro-Quebec that can