Love is in the air. Cree leaders were in a joking mood at a press conference held jointly with NaturalResources Minister Guy Chevrette in Montreal to sign the famous $15-million “MOU” deal.
Everyone was feeling very upbeat, laughing it up and trying to make funny comments. The journalists’probing questions did little to spoil the festive mood.
One by one, the chiefs sat down with Chevrette and signed on the dotted line.
Despite our best efforts, The Nation still has not been able to obtain a full breakdown of howmuch each Cree community will receive under the deal.
We have heard of grumbling that the communities of Mistissini, Chisasibi and Whapmagoostui got lessthan their populations warranted, while Waskaganish, the home town of the negotiator,Chief Billy Diamond, got far more.
At the press conference, Chevrette promised to provide us with the full breakdown, but ministryofficials have so far not followed up on the promise.
The Nation has filed an Access-to-Information request for the documents.
It was clearly a public-relations coup for the Parti Québécois government. Chevrette said the dealwill send a message around the world that his government and the Crees are getting along. He also keptemphasizing how great it would be to have joint partnerships on development projects with the Crees.
“I’m very happy (with the deal),” said Chevrette. “We can put before the eyes of the world the factthat we can work together. We want to establish a harmonious relationship and partnerships.”
Diamond echoed this idea: “We have no plans of leaving the Cree territory. Therefore, we have to finda way to coexist.” Asked by a reporter if this means Crees are open to new hydro-electric projects.Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come chose his words carefully. “There is room in the agreement for some sortof sharing of the resources of the land. That’s something that’s on the table. That’ll be subject tonegotiations,” he replied.
“The issue of water rights is still an issue that is outstanding. The position of the Crees hasn’tchanged (on dams). But if you are looking at different forms of energy, then that is different. Thatis something new and we’ll look at it.”
One concern of some critics of the deal is that Quebec will use it to pressure Crees to keep quiet onsensitive political issues like sovereignty. We put the question to Robert Sauve, Assistant DeputyMinister of Natural Resources. “The intention in these negotiations is to go ahead with somedevelopment projects and issues that were identified (in the first Quebec-Cree agreement in 1995).There is no other intention behind it.” Sauve said he was unaware of any Quebec policy to deny Creesfunds because of the Cree international campaigns against sovereignty and Great Whale.
On top of the $15 million, Waskaganish and Eastmain are each getting $1 million extra for communitycentres, and O.J. is getting $750,000 toward the Cree Cultural Institute. Also, five communities aregetting almost $200,000 to study the effects of forestry. This money is to be split with theJames Bay Advisory Committee.
Some of the $15 million is also going to the JBCCS and Cree Trappers’Association.