The Council Board held a special meeting in Mistissini on February 9 to address growing concerns throughout out the Cree communities that stem from the creation of Bill 40.

This piece of legislation was created in 2001 after the signing of the Paix des Braves and handed control over Category II and III lands to the Municipality de Baie James (MBJ). The Crees however were excluded from sitting on this regional board.

Since that time, the MBJ has made allowances for non-Natives to hunt on Category II and III lands, build homes, rent those homes and even create their own communities on Cree territory while the Crees have been fined for pursuing traditional activities.

Since mid-December, several Crees have been fined by the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) for what was described as hunting too close to residential areas. When asked about the fines by the community of Chisasibi, the SQ’s response was that they were simply enforcing the law.

At the same time, Chisasibi locals are saying that there are so many sports hunters on the territory using high-powered firearms that they fear traveling to their own camps. Some of those hunters have also been killing caribou recklessly and leaving the carcasses where they died.

At the meeting, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come presented his plan to meet with Premier Jean Charest to discuss the current situation and look at possible solutions. Coon Come said he hoped to have such a meeting within the next two months. Coon Come added that if a solution is not found within the next six months, the Crees would have to resort to legal action.

Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees, said the Crees would be looking to resolve the matter with Quebec through the dispute-resolution mechanism outlined in the Paix des Braves. According to Namagoose, Quebec has presented the issue to Judge Réjean Paul, the conciliator, as a dispute between the Cree and the MBJ rather than an issue between the Crees and Quebec.

Many present at the meeting want to see Bill 40 dismantled.

“At the very least it should be put back the way it was before when the Quebec government had the authority over the territory and they shared it with the Cree. But there was a unilateral amendment through Bill 40 that changed the governance of the territory without consultation with the Cree. It is also a unilateral amendment to the JBNQA, which is a treaty, and this is really the problem,” said Namagoose.

Not everyone shared Coon Come’s position to give Quebec another six months to resolve the territorial dispute. At the meeting, Chisasibi Chief Roderick Pachano was the most vocal.

In his opinion, Quebec has had the last nine years to address these issues and the situation is only getting worse and in that time, Quebec has not shown a willingness to do so.

“It’s gotten to the point that it is not just the residents of Chisasibi who are affected. Every year, from mid-November to mid-February, people come back to the village because it is too dangerous to stay out there. We are now talking about a loss of a way of life, a loss of income in the income security program, a loss of fur income when the fur is at its prime and a loss of living on the land,” said Pachano.

Pachano would like to at least see temporary measures put in place to end the “harassment” that, he said, some Crees are facing, particularly in fines.

Still, Pachano and just about everyone else in attendance would rather see the issue resolved outside of the courts and see legal action only as a last resort.

“Quebec knows our position on all of these issues. The question is how could anyone in the know – with due respect for equality, democracy and proper governance of a territory and equity – draft legislation that excludes a certain people in governance over the territory? That is marginalizing people and a violation of treaty rights and Cree rights,” said Namagoose.