It’s been four and a half years and an estimated $400,000 of Cree money spent since Cree negotiator Chief Billy Diamond first started talking to the provincial government. By February 19, the Crees’ long wait to see movement on the part of Quebec will likely come to pass. Crees are to share $15 million in funds for long-awaited projects in the communities.
The deal still needs to be approved by the Quebec cabinet and treasury board. The Counci l/Board of the CRA has passed a resolution supporting the deal. More money is promised in future years, but exactly how much is subject to negotiations.
Only one of the 20 Counci l/Board members didn’t vote in favour of the deal. Kenny Blacksmith, the elected Council/Board member for Mistissini, cited a closed process in which the chiefs and hence the communities were given only basic information on what was happening. He wrote a letter to Chief William Mianscum explaining why he voted against the resolution supporting the deal with Quebec.
Blacksmith said the closed process gave Diamond an “open blanket mandate” and led to approval without any real or thorough discussion. He went on to warn that the year-by-year negotiations could be used to keep Crees quiet.
“It now appears as long as the Cree don’t stand up and voice Cree rights… then Quebec will hand over a few dollars to keep us quiet,” he wrote.
Blacksmith was quick to point out that he didn’t vote against the projects or the communities butagainst the process itself.A message should be sent out that any discussion or open debates shouldn’t result in isolation
for voicing an opinion, said Blacksmith. “I’m not creating a problem. I’m saying let’s check out the train schedule and find out where the MoU train is going.”
Chief Mianscum acknowledged Blacksmith’s opposition to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) process of negotiating with Quebec. “Here in Mistissini we didn’t embrace the MoU process of 1995, but we said, ‘Let’s take the government to task,”‘ Mianscum said. He said these were projects that were part of Quebec’s unfulfilled obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Mistissini is looking at getting about $15 million over four years under the process.
Whapmagoostui Chief Matthew Mukash agreed with Blacksmith’s assessment: “There’s no guarantee of anything.”
Mukash said the year-to-year negotiations could be jeopardized if the Crees voice their rights. Mukash also pointed out that while chiefs and Council/Board members are all watching out for the fiscal needs of the community, they should take time out and not forget the social impacts of the dams. Still, he admitted that the chiefs are looking at the needs of a growing Cree population.
Whapmagoostui stands to get $470,000 this year from the deal, which could be worth as much as $130 million to the Crees over five years, according to Mukash.
When asked about the deal, Chief Diamond said, “I gave the briefing to the Cree chiefs. Get thebacon from Matthew (Coon Come). I gave him a full briefing.”
Grand Chief Coon Come declined to comment, saying he hasn’t had
a chance to meet all the chiefs
yet and discuss the deal.