In what is being described as a “new relationship” between the James Bay Cree and Quebec, the two signed a monumental Agreement In Principle in Quebec City Oct. 23 that redefines the rights and responsibilities of each partner. The agreement spans 50 years and promises eventual payments of at least $3.5 billion. But it came as a surprise to all but those involved at the highest level.
The agreement is intended to forge a new relationship between the Cree and Quebec, with both parties entering into it on a nation-to-nation basis. Emphasis has been placed on a mutually beneficial plan to develop and modernize the James Bay territory. The scope of the agreement is vast, encompassing economic, environmental and legal concerns.
The development of natural resources, covers forestry, hydroelectricity, and mining. Provisions for forestry allow a tallyman to designate a portion of his territory, not exceeding 1% of his land, as a site of special interest to the Cree. Areas surrounding a site of special interest could have wildlife management protection for up to 25% of a trapline. Other protective measures include protective strips bordering waterways, mosaic cutting, and the development of a joint forestry board. The Ministry of National Resources will make a 350,000 cubic metre wood allocation to the Cree within the first five years.
Quebec will make an annual, tax-free financial contribution to the Crees for the duration of the agreement. The annual contribution is slated at $23 million for 2002, $46 million for 2003, and $70 million for the following 48 years. The contribution will be indexed based on a formula intended to “reflect the evolution of activity in the James Bay territory in the hydroelectricity, forestry and mining sectors.” The Crees will in turn assume Quebec’s responsibilities under the James Bay Northern Quebec
Agreement in the area of economic and community development.
A Cree Development Corporation (CDC) will operate as an autonomous corporation under a majority Cree board of directors. The CDC will oversee and facilitate economic development, including job creation. Quebec has also promised to “instruct Hydro-Quebec to proceed with the signing of the agreement concerning employment for the Crees.”
In return, the Crees consent to the Eastmain hydroelectric project and the diversion of the Rupert River. The Crees will also assume an equal share of the operating costs of the provincial environmental committees set out in the JBNQA. Crees will also take responsibility for the funding of local beneficiary registration services and of local environmental service for the term of the agreement.
One stipulation is that the legal entities receiving annual contributions from Quebec will have to submit “an annual report and audited financial statements, describing their activities and the use of the funds.” Should these reports not be filed within six months of the close of the fiscal year ending March 31st, “Quebec reserves the right to suspend subsequent payments, which however will be reinstituted retroactively, without interest, as soon as these reports and financial statements have been submitted.”
The agreement seeks the resolution of all outstanding legal disputes. The Crees are to discontinue legal actions against Quebec for failure to uphold commitments in the JBNQA, as well as those concerning natural resources. The Crees are to petition the court to declare the forestry case settled, assuming their own costs for the case. Cree claims for SOPFEU will be halted and they will commence paying monies to SOPFEU April 1, 2002. Quebec will not appeal the Cree School Board case to the
Supreme Court of Canada. Both parties agree to establish a dispute resolution system to avoid legal proceedings in any further disputes. Legal action will only be taken as a last recourse.
Quebec was represented at the table by Premier Bernard Landry, Native Affairs Minister Guy Chevrette and Natural Resources Minister Jacques Brassard. The Grand Council of the Crees and the Cree Regional Authority acted on behalf of the Crees, represented by Grand Chief Ted Moses, Eastmain Chief Edward Gilpin and Waswanipi Chief Paul Gull.
The deal appears to have caught most people offguard. Negotiations were kept strictly confidential. The Agreement was first tabled at a Cree Regional Authority council board meeting five days before it was signed Oct. 23, according to Chief Gilpin.
Moses and Landry began discussing the settlement of court cases some time after the spring hunt, said Gilpin. “This (deal) is something that no other Aboriginal group in North America ever got from a government,” said Gilpin, who also feels that the agreement provides adequate compensation for the Cree. “This will force the communities to come up with solid long-term plans,” he added.
The Agreement was signed with the consensus of the nine community Chiefs, with the understanding that they must go back to their communities to hold discussions and get the consent of the people. Consultations will be held in the nine communities to determine what form this consent will take.
“Maybe we should go for a referendum,” said Chief Gilpin. “I would support it if that’s what all the communities want.” The Eastmain leader plans to meet with as many segments of the community as possible, including elders, youth and trappers.
Both parties seek to sign a final version of the agreement by the end of the year. With so much at stake, however, there has been concern expressed over whether or not this is a reasonable time frame.
“Two months is a very short time” to decide. Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff told The Nation. “A lot of our people are still out in the bush and con’t come to the meetings that are taking place.”
But Grand Chief Moses fears delay will mean the agreement gets bogged down. “We’re not rushing,” he said. “It’s the end of December and that’s the time we feel we need to conclude it. The longer we talk the more time there is for circumstances to go beyond your control.”