It was front-page news a year ago when Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and the Cree chiefs met Premier Jacques Parizeau for the first time in Quebec City and burried the hatchet.

The historical meeting gave the separatist leader something to hold up as proof of his good will toward the First Nations. In exchange, Crees were promised much-needed funds to create jobs, build youth centres, provide for Elders and people with disabilities.

Quebec got what it wanted. Crees basically got the finger. And a huge bill – $229,576.45 in travel expenses, legal fees and professional fees. No new money has been given to Crees, despite many requests for funding for long-delayed community projects.

At the time the so-called “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed, some on the Cree side were skeptical. They said Crees were missing out on the bigger picture. Of course, Quebec should be forced to provide services to Crees which all other citizens of the country are entitled to. But what about the larger questions like forestry and getting real regional self-government happening in Eeyou Astchee?

Also, here was Parizeau being handed a big PR boost for simply promising Crees services they have a right to anyway.

As it turns out, even that was too much to expect from Quebec.

A year later, Deputy Grand Chief Kenny Blacksmith says it’s clear the Quebec government isn’t taking the negotiations seriously, so why should Crees.

“The Quebec government’s attitude and lack of seriousness to resolve with us certain issues at hand should cause us to seriously reflect on our approach with Quebec,” Blacksmith wrote in a letter to the Grand Chief and nine chiefs on June 12.

“We are still expected to sign ourselves away to access what normally should be ours to have.” Blacksmith also accused Quebec of using a “divide and conquer strategy” against Crees, trying to exclude the Grand Council from discussions and just dealing with certain chiefs.

“I also believe that we should not only be aware of Quebec’s divide and conquer strategy but that we need to address it.”

In an interview, Blacksmith said it’s time to demand recognition of Cree rights, an end to development without Cree consent and real regional self-government.

“Right now, our whole territory is being opened up. I think it’s time we said enough’s enough. Let’s act like the Cree Nation. We’ve got to start thinking of bigger principles.”

Blacksmith’s letter was presented to a meeting of the Cree chiefs in Montreal June 12 and 13. At that meeting and at another one a week later, several chiefs expressed the same concerns.

Chief Charles Bobbish of Chisasibi summed up the mood at the meetings: “Some people are saying there are a lot of discussions (with Quebec), but no tangible results. There are other things that are important to the communities now, but no one is talking about them.”

Chisasibi, for example, has been trying for years to get a decent airport and is getting nowhere with the Quebec government, said Chief Bobbish. Because there are no landing lights at the airstrip, it can’t be used at night, which is a problem especially because the main regional hospital is located in the community. Anyone who needs to be medevac’ed must be driven 102 km to the LG-2 airport. “When you’re sick, that’s a long way to go,” said Bobbish.

The Chiefs were so concerned about Quebec’s attitude they postponed a meeting with Native Affairs Minister Guy Chevrette in Waskaganish scheduled for early July.

The meeting was set up by Chief Billy Diamond, who is the head Cree negotiator with Quebec.

Chiefs felt they needed more time to re-evaluate Cree-Quebec relations before sitting down with Chevrette and decided to devote a special chiefs’ meeting in July to that purpose.

One of the main topics on the agenda will be the so-called “Cree Strategic Planning Document.” Conceived by Chief Diamond and the Quebec government, it is a plan to set up a “partnership” between Crees and non-Native interests like the SDBJ in Eeyou Astchee.

The plan sees a permanent role for non-Native entities based in Eeyou Astchee in deciding on future development projects in the region (see story on next page). According to one proposal, Crees would actually be in the minority on the committee set up under this plan, which has unknown implications for the rights of Crees protected by the James Bay Agreement.