Cree Governance Agreement signing held in Ottawa

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Cree dignitaries and federal government officials gathered on the steps of Parliament Hill to sign the Cree Nation Governance Agreement July 18, capping off a nine-year negotiation process that began in 2008.

The ceremony came after both the Governance Agreement and the Cree Constitution were formally approved by each of the Cree First Nations of Eeyou Istchee and the Cree Nation Government. The final step was to secure approval from the federal government, which is expected to introduce federal legislation soon to put the agreement into force.

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Spirits were high as Elder Kenneth Gilpin welcomed the crowd of dozens to Algonquin territory. Federal NDP MP Romeo Saganash joked, “I’ve been in this place six years, and I’ve never seen this many Crees on this lawn. There’s a lot of power here, even the flag came down,” he said, referring to high winds that toppled a Canadian flag at the start of the event.

“Signings like this could happen every week throughout the land,” Saganash said. “That’s what we need to achieve, not just with the Cree, but with First Nations across Canada. That’s my wish.”

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Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come spoke of the long journey that had led to this point. “The vision has always been for Cree self-governance and self-determination. It is that vision that continues to guide us today. There have been many obstacles, many arguments to forge, and bridges to build. This is reconciliation in action,” he said.

“The Governance Agreement removes oversight by the Minister of Indian Affairs, who no longer approves our bylaws or financial statements. We’re completely independent, and have secured financial security until 2040. This marks another advance in Cree Nation building and in our nation-to-nation relationship with Canada.”

Coon Come also took the opportunity to announce that he would be retiring from public life, after a distinguished career of over 40 years that included being the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 2000 to 2003.

The new agreement and constitution would remove federal supervision over Cree governance of their lands, and would remove the need to have certain by-laws approved by the federal minister. Also, the federal minister would lose the ability to implement third-party administration in the case of financial troubles.

Jurisdiction over the constitution would also remain entirely in Cree hands and not a federal law, meaning that it doesn’t require approval by either Quebec or Canada.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett spoke to what the agreement meant from the government’s perspective.

“Today’s Governance Agreement represents a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples. This is a true nation-to-nation effort, based on the principles of sustainable development, partnership and respect for the traditional way of life of the Cree,” she stated.

“It builds on the successes of the Cree Nation by enabling law-making powers on federal Cree community lands that reflect their culture, priorities and aspirations. I am honoured to stand alongside the Crees of Eeyou Istchee as we advance reconciliation together and celebrate the continued success of the Cree Nation.”

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The government also committed to providing a payment of $200 million that was agreed upon in the 2008 New Relationship Agreement shortly after this agreement is passed federally.

Bill Namagoose, Executive Director for the Cree Nation Government, was optimistic about the signing. “The Governance Agreement gives us greater autonomy, financial security and a recognition of the right to self-determination. It removes the minister and federal government from our lives. Now the chiefs and councils are accountable to the people for the funding that they get.”

However, Namagoose admitted that the government didn’t always agree to the funding mechanisms proposed. “When we started negotiations, the government wanted cutbacks. We resisted that. They also wanted to tax our people. We resisted that.”

At the conclusion of the signing agreement, Grand Chief Coon Come and Minister Bennett completed a gift exchange. Coon Come presented Bennett with a pair of snowshoes and a history of the Cree people on DVD.

Bennett presented Coon Come with a stained-glass piece of art depicting a goose, as well as a retirement gift of a wooden carved goose statue.



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