Grand Chief Ted Moses gave the following address at his swearing-in ceremony in Nemaska on October 19.
I want to thank Bishop Caleb Lawrence for his service to the Cree people and for preparing this ceremony and the arrangements for this occasion of our swearing-in today. I also thank the Reverend Hal Graham for coming here today to swear in Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash and myself.
I stood for election as Grand Chief because of my concern that the rights we had fought for and won as the Cree Nation were in danger. I consider my election to be a vote by the Cree people for Cree unity, and I intend to respect that mandate.
The Crees are a people. As a people we are born with certain human rights. Having these rights, however, does not mean our rights will always be respected by others. No, in order to make sure our rights are respected, we also have to be strong.
So here are the two elements of Cree unity:
– the existence of our basic human rights and fundamental freedoms:
– the strength to uphold, protect and promote the rights of the Cree people.
We can think of ourselves as the Cree people and the Cree Nation, or we can think of ourselves as nine Indian bands among the over 600 bands or “first nations” in Canada.
Canada devised the notion of a “band of Indians.” Thought of this way, we are only small groups of individuals, and not organized societies or governmental organizations. This way of looking at our people is clearly derogatory and degrading. It is meant to divide us, and thus to weaken us. It prevents thoughts of unity and nationhood, and so it serves to do exactly what is intended.
We built the Grand Council of the Crees to protect the rights of the Cree Nation. We built it because our rights were under attack. We still need the Cree Nation because we are still being threatened.
Others would like to use our lands and resources, and leave us with practically nothing. They are still looking for our soft spots, ways to make us fight among ourselves and open up opportunities for them to take advantage of our disagreements.
Let’s not fall into the trap. I keep hearing about the Cree communities against the Cree Nation. I have seen Cree chiefs who sit on the Grand Council of the Crees, who are the Grand Council of the Crees, blasting the Grand Council and refusing to cooperate and provide the information and support needed so that the Grand Council can do its job and effectively protect Cree rights.
I have seen chiefs who sit on the executive committee criticizing the Grand Council they themselves administer! We have all kind of consultants working at the community level who pump-up the idea of the communities against the so-called “regional entities.”
These are the same people who invited Hydro-Quebec to approach the Crees community-by-community, and to reject the authority of the Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority.
But the Cree people have spoken. The Cree people rejected this attempt to divide the Crees. They want all of us to work together.
This is not an issue of the power of the Grand Council versus the authority of the communities and the Cree chiefs. It is simply this: We have to speak with one voice. Communities can speak with Canada or Quebec any time they wish, but they must keep in mind the decisions they themselves have made as part of the Cree Nation. They must respect the authority they themselves have vested in the Cree Nation when they sit on its council. That is their strength, and that is a strength we all share.
I have no intention of taking authority away from the Cree communities. On the contrary, I want strong and prosperous Cree communities that understand that we all stand or fall together. We hold our rights collectively as a people. No one can give these rights away. As I said after my election:
“No one can give away something which is not theirs to give. A tallyman cannot sell the rights to his trapline. Neither can a chief sell the rights of his community. We are given these things in trust, as caretakers and as leaders. Beyond that, we are just human beings, and we have no authority.”
Now we have to work together. We need to share information and provide support where support is needed. We need to share Cree resources equitably among communities and not promote the interests of one community at the expense of other communities. The Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority is there for the Cree communities and the Cree people.
I look forward to serving the Cree Nation as Grand Chief. We live in a time when all of the work we have been doing – fighting for the recognition of our rights in the United Nations, arguing before the Canadian courts, speaking to the public, investing in economic development, building our communities, training our people – all of these things are coming into their season, and the benefits will be there for our people.
I am here to work for the Crees, for aboriginal peoples, for human rights and for better lives for our people. Please help me to do this.