After heated debate, the Cree Nation Government in the James Bay Region of Quebec has moved to approve two key documents that could change the way the region is run, despite a petition asking for a delay and one chief who says her community has yet to have its say.
“At some point you have to make a decision,” Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come told those gathered at an all-day special council board meeting on the matter Wednesday in Mistissini.
Since January, Quebec’s Cree Nation Government has been holding consultation meetings in its communities to present and get feedback on a draft Cree constitution and governance agreement that would give the Cree greater control over the lands immediately surrounding their communities, as well as stable funding into 2040 and the power to collect their own taxes.
“It provides security for the Cree Nation. There are no options in there for the federal government to cut back our funding. We have taxation power but no obligation to use it,” said Bill Namagoose, the Cree Nation Government’s executive director.
“Aboriginal people across Canada have been forced to give up their tax exemption. The Crees have been successful in keeping it.”
But for some, the process has moved too quickly.
“Why the rush?” asked Darlene Cheechoo, the chief of Waskaganish, a community of more than 2,000 members about 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal. Waskaganish’s chief and council have yet to vote on the proposed agreement and constitution.
“This is so important. I want the youth in my community to fully understand this document. I can say that not a lot of youth [in my community] do.”
Approved by 8 of 9 communities
Eight of Quebec’s nine Cree communities have already approved the documents in separate local assemblies over the past several weeks. MoCreebec, an association representing several hundred Quebec Cree who settled in Moose Factory, Ontario, has been part of the process as an observer, and supports it.
“We shouldn’t even think about slowing down or turning back,” said Allan Jolly, chief of MoCreebec. “We’ve got to keep going forward. This governance and constitution is the next step going forward towards measures of sovereignty and towards independence.”
That path to sovereignty included the landmark 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which Namagoose said laid the groundwork on which to build a unique governance model.
“I am of the first generation to inherit the JBNQA and we’ve made the most of it,” said Namagoose. “We have to pass on the tradition that the Crees are…