I think everyone has heard that money is the root of all evil. I don’t think this is so but rather the lust or desperate need for money is the root of all evil. In this case the evil to me would be the disregard for Cree culture and values. I have no doubt the Chiefs and Council Board members care about what has happened to the Cree people.
I also know this is the first year that the full $70 million is to be disbursed. We all know there must be a point at which you are willing to start a process to deal with the issues of spending this money and using it to live up to the obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. I knew it would be difficult to determine how much each community would get and how the money would be spent.
We have so many needs; more housing, more employment, some want a community centre, others a viable economy and more local businesses. The federal government is chipping away at operations and maintenance fundings, but sewers and other facilities still need to be up to standards. Just providing adequate housing has put some communities heavily in debt. Other communities are looking at long-term development for their communities. In the March Council/Board meeting I heard one person say that the Crees have very little private sector compared to other communities and that something has to be done to create and encourage the Cree private sector. The Cree Trappers Association wants more than $3 million. They say they need $10 million and have the figures and reasoning to back it up. They made a heartfelt and impassioned plea for this.
This was part of the process I saw but it wasn’t enough. The decisions on how to divide up the money had to be put off.
Watching what I saw and later heard about the process reminded me of what then Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come told me once. He said it was easy to talk or write about things that the Grand Council or chiefs were doing but I should try the other side for a change. I for one was glad I was not part of this exchange. I know the Cree people have said that they want things to be done in a fair and equitable manner and that includes the money. Unfortunately the Chiefs and Council Board members can’t seem to agree on what that is. The Cree Governance Working Group brought in what looked like a proposal that fit both the JBNQA obligations as well as community and economic development needs. As with the past two years it was ignored in the chiefs scramble for the cash. Currently there are two or three other proposals out there that aren’t based on any formula.
I have always believed in taking a harder line with Quebec when they try to step on Cree rights. I want the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to be respected and fully implemented. These are things that I am sure any Cree agrees with. Now, though, we are responsible for implementing some of those obligations instead of Quebec.
The question becomes who do we sue now? Who do we take the hardline with now? We are administering our own Agreement.
I mean when you think of the past relationship with Quebec, it has been one of oath breaking, of unfulfilled promises. If it was a personal relationship between a person and me, I wouldn’t have anything to do with such a person until everything was cleared up. Anything else would mean I was a fool to trust that person again. We entered into a new relationship with Quebec and that era is over… and now the problems are our own.