National Aboriginal Day was established to celebrate Canada’s First Peoples and our important contributions to Canada.
This past winter and spring our Cree youth undertook a heroic march to emphasize the importance of unity among Aboriginal peoples. It is fitting that we honour the Nishiiyuu walkers for their accomplishments.
They have shown everyone in this country that the energy of our youth can be positive and inspiring. They have inspired Aboriginal people and many Canadians across this country.
This journey reminded us of the importance of protecting our lands for the future generations to come. The rights of aboriginal peoples across the country must be recognized and translated into benefits for all our peoples.
We encourage the youth to continue using their energies to achieve honourable visions for our people and for aboriginal peoples across the country.
Happy Aboriginal Day.
Grand Chief Dr. Matthew Coon Come
Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff
HAPPY ABORIGINAL DAY TO ALL.
ᒥᓯᐧᐋ ᒑ ᒥᐧᔮᔨᐦᑎᒫᒄ ᒑ ᐅᑎᐦᒋᐱᔨᒡ ᑳᓈᑖ
Recruiting campaign at SPVM
Equal Opportunity Program
The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) is seeking candidates to take part in the Equal Opportunity Program’s recruiting process.
In order to be eligible, you must:
- Be of Aboriginal origin or belong to a visible or ethnic minority.
- Meet the following education criteria: completion of a university degree, a technical training program leading to a Diploma of College Studies (3 years) or a pre-university college course (2 years) and 30 university credits.
The Program aims to promote a better representation of Montreal’s diverse population within the SPVM.
State of the Cree Nation Address
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come outlines his ideas on the present and future of Eeyou Istchee
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come was the first Grand Chief to deliver a State of the Cree Nation Address in the Nation. He was candid then and continues to be. He talks about the economy, education, the future and what’s needed as well as clearly defining the Cree leadership’s position concerning the Municipality of Baie-James (MBJ).
Coon Come looks at the land and what it means to the Cree – both in terms of the Cree connection and the opportunities to benefit them and their communities. He doesn’t necessarily see them as being in conflict. Coon Come’s address is a look at what the next few years and beyond will mean to every Cree.
The Nation: Since you came back into office this summer, what are some of your biggest accomplishments over the past six months?
Matthew Coon Come: When I came into office it was almost September, so it has been just over three months now. During this period I felt it necessary to set the stage for addressing several important issues currently facing the Cree Nation. These issues which need to be dealt with are the role of MBJ in Eeyou Istchee and the related report of Judge Réjean Paul, attempts to unilaterally change the terms of the New Relationship Agreement with Quebec in the area of forestry, Quebec’s Plan Nord, and Cree governance.
I have already had meetings with several Quebec ministers as well as a preliminary meeting with Premier Charest, I have held an important press conference and I have already delivered several public addresses expressing the Cree Nation view. I have made it very clear to Quebec that we are now at a crossroads in our relationship. We can take the high road and renew the spirit of the Paix des Braves and the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), which provide for Cree consent to any development within Eeyou Istchee as well as the possibilities for entering into strategic partnerships to develop the resources within our territory for the benefit of our communities.
On the other hand, if our agreements are not respected and if there are efforts to undermine and sabotage these agreements, we could find ourselves in a situation where we must once again rely on litigation and public campaigns to have our rights respected. I have never in the past, and will never in the future, shy away from a vigorous defense of Cree rights.
I have publicly stated that it is our preference to take the high road and find ways to work together with Quebec and with the Quebec people within the context of the agreements, which we signed in good faith.
One of the very first things I did when I came into office was to write a letter to Premier Charest in which I made it very clear to him that if there is going to be natural resource development within Eeyou Istchee the Cree Nation’s rights related to the governance of our lands will need to be fully acknowledged and respected.
Early in the new year, I will be having a longer and more serious meeting with Premier Charest to address all of these very important issues. As a result of my preliminary meeting with the Premier as well as a meeting with Nathalie Normandeau, Minister of Natural Resources, Quebec has made a commitment to establish a separate table for the Cree Nation and Quebec to ensure that Cree rights as expressed in the JBNQA and the Paix des Braves are incorporated into Quebec’s Plan Nord. It is my expectation, and I have stated publicly, that any Plan Nord involving Eeyou Istchee will be developed in collaboration with the Cree Nation.
In the meantime we are continuing our work internally to develop a Cree position on governance of the territory and we continue to make sure that our rights with respect to forestry and forestry legislation be respected.
TN: How does your administration differ from the previous one?
MCC: I think that is really for other people to judge. The previous administration did what they believed was best for the Cree Nation, and this administration will be doing what we believe is best for the Cree Nation. I do not have the time to think about how I am performing relative to any others who have been in this position. There is just too much to do to defend and promote Cree rights and also to develop plans for the long-term benefit of our Cree Nation and our communities to think about those kinds of things. I will leave comparisons to others.
TN: Over the last few years we have seen Quebec violate the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by handing over more power in the region to the Municipality of Baie-James, what is the Grand Council doing about this?
MCC: We have made it very clear that this is a situation, which will not be allowed to continue. This move represents a clear violation of the spirit of both the JBNQA and the Paix des Braves. To have passed this legislation through the National Assembly while, at the same time, finalizing negotiations of the Paix des Braves is nothing less than bad faith. The report of Judge Paul, which we recently received a copy of, confirms this view.
As we know, the Cree population in the territory is increasing dramatically while the population of the non-Native towns and settlements is in a decline. To confer significantly greater powers to representatives of these towns is nothing more nor less than a northern version of “apartheid” in which a white minority has power greater than is warranted by their numbers and gives them control over the future of the economy. This is not something I will stand for nor accept, and I think the Cree people will support me in that position.
It is particularly disturbing that these additional powers over Category II lands have been transferred to an entity controlled by the mayors of the non-Native municipalities of the region in spite of the fact that the Cree chiefs are also mayors of portions of Cree lands that since 1978 have been recognized as municipalities.
I have met with Judge Paul and informed him that any discussions to resolve this matter with Quebec must be based on a nation-to-nation basis between the Cree Nation and Quebec. This is not a matter to be discussed with representatives of the MBJ.
I expressed to Judge Paul my serious reservations about his renewed mandate on the file, which is to find ways to bring the Cree Nation and the representatives of MBJ to the same table. This is also something that we will not accept.
We need to have meaningful discussions related to Cree governance and what the role of non-Cree people in the territory will be. These discussions will not deny the reality of Cree rights. One thing I am very confident about is that this transfer of jurisdiction and powers to the MBJ will be undone and replaced by a proper form of regional governance during my term of office.
The last time that the JBNQA was violated was right after its signature in 1975. At that time most of our rights were ignored by both Canada and Quebec. We had a huge task before us and few resources to address it. After years of conciliatory meetings with little result, it took us just over 10 years to decide to aggressively seek justice. We now have been largely vindicated in our claims of 1989. There is irony in the fact that our present problems with territorial governance were created at the same time as the Paix des Braves settled most of our other issues with Quebec’s implementation of the treaty. I am ready to work with Quebec to resolve this matter or if that proves to be impossible, I am ready to fight for as long as it takes to achieve justice.
TN: Though the Crees may have many prosperous entities throughout the nation, not every individual benefits from this and many are still unemployed. What will you be doing over the coming year to stimulate the local economies and create new jobs?
MCC: First of all, it is important to remember that there has been substantial employment in our communities, which has been created as a result of the agreements we have entered into with various levels of government. The Cree-Naskapi Act, which provided self-governing powers to the communities, is one example of this. There will also be additional employment coming from the new agreement with Canada, which transfers even more authorities and responsibilities to the Cree Nation. This governance related employment has been, and will continue to be, very significant.
There have been significant increases in employment opportunities coming out of the Paix des Braves and the Cree/Canada Agreement. These opportunities involve various Cree entities including the Cree School Board, the Cree Health Board, CREECO, and Cree Construction and Development Company. We will also see employment opportunities when we fully staff the newly created Cree Development Corporation.
The employment picture for our communities is not at all bleak, in fact, it is full of potential. We will, however, need to make education and training a high priority. We will need to be involved at all levels, from our families to our major institutional entities, to ensure that we take full advantage of the employment opportunities which are before us.
Further, we have always maintained that our future is closely tied to the land, just as it has always been in the past throughout our history. The land has nurtured us and sustained us. We must, in this current phase of our nation’s history make sure that the laws, agreements, and practices within our communities and on the part of governments be compatible with this history as we look to the future. We must make sure that our land provides the basis for our sustenance.
In the current phase of our history, this will mean that in addition to continuing to encourage and support our traditional activities on the land, we must also look to the development of the resources on our lands to provide us with jobs and with incomes. All of our major initiatives over the last several decades have been precisely about this – to make sure that our nation is in a position to continue to have the land sustain us, and to do so in a way that ensures that our future generations will have the same opportunities and the same availability to the land and its resources that we have today.
TN: Some of the industries that are looking to develop the bounty of natural resources on Cree territory are promising jobs but the kind of development they want to do may be detrimental to the environment. What is a greater priority for you at this time, job creation or environmental protection? Is there a harmony that can be found within the two?
MCC: I have always maintained the view that it is only when Aboriginal peoples have meaningful control over the natural resources within their traditional territories that we will be in a position to implement development initiatives, which both address the needs of our communities and our nation, but also incorporate the philosophies and values inherent in our cultures. In our Cree culture we practiced “sustainable development” long before it became recognized as an imperative by the larger society. However, at the time “sustainable development” also involved great hardship, high infant mortality, often scarce game and a difficult life on the land that kept our population low.
It is only when we have a sufficient degree of control that we can develop the innovative approaches to resource development that address our employment needs while ensuring the on-going availability of those resources for our future generations. The world community is increasingly looking for ways to develop that are protective of the environment. We are not there yet in Canada, but it is in our interest as an Aboriginal people to promote environmentally friendly development. We have lessons for dispute resolution and on how to care for the environment. This is how we have always been in the past and I am confident that this is how we will be in the future.
For example, we are continuing serious discussions with Hydro-Québec regarding the development of wind-energy projects in the territory. We have established a Cree Energy Corporation to implement these as well as other similar types of projects. Also, several of the communities are looking at their own alternative-energy projects which have as their objective the addressing of community needs while at the same time doing that in such a way that minimizes environmental impacts. Oujé-Bougoumou is working on the development of a small run-of-the-river mini-hydroelectric facility to do just that. These kinds of projects are very encouraging.
In the end, it will be the communities and the Cree people who will make the decisions regarding the trade-offs between job creation and environmental impacts, and I am certain that those decisions will be informed by our Cree values and our philosophies which have always embodied our own notion of “sustainable development” and the importance of taking care of the land so that it is there for future generations.
This also means that our people, at all levels, will need to demonstrate our respect for our Cree culture and be active in sustainable development practices.
TN: How do you plan to rectify the current problems that Hydro-Québec is experiencing in terms of the closing of the gates on the Rupert River and in terms of the deal that they made with the Crees? Will this require a renegotiation?
MCC: The problems experienced to date by Hydro-Québec since the diversion of the Rupert River have to do with technical problems with the dykes and also have to do with them getting to know how the new system of water management works. We are watching this closely and we have just now begun to implement the “Water Management Agreement” that the communities signed shortly after the construction began. The Water Management Board under the Agreement is set up to ensure that the water-flow regime works and to also address other issues stemming from the water management that have surfaced or may do so in the future.
In addition to this, there are 10-year and 15-year (in the diversion zone) agreements on remedial works with the trappers that have to be finalized and will need yearly adjustment to resolve issues as they come to light. Moreover, in 2011 there will be a set of hearings held in the communities by COMEX, with the participation of Hydro-Québec, to listen to people’s knowledge of the diversion and of the whole EM1A Project. We will see what measures need to be undertaken once these hearings are completed.
TN: Since the massive losses the Cree Trust took with the 2008 economic crisis and stock-market crash, how much of those losses have been recovered. Where do the Crees stand economically?
MCC: When the global economy took a down-turn over a year ago every investment portfolio, every pension fund, every individual and institutional holdings were severely affected. The Cree Trust was no different, however, because of the way in which our portfolio was structured there was sufficient diversification to avoid catastrophic losses. The Cree Trust losses were, therefore, not massive.
The Trust invested in some financial vehicles that provided a guaranteed return and in others that varied with the stock market. It was the latter investments that were impacted by the stock-market crisis. In fact, compared to other Cree investment funds, the Cree Trust fund has very substantially out-performed the others. As the economy has begun to pick up, and as the Canadian economy is gradually coming out of the recession, the performance of our investment portfolio has improved significantly.
TN: Many parents within the Cree Nation are concerned about education, both the low literacy rate amongst Eeyou Istchee’s students and the alarmingly high dropout rate, do you have any particular message for them?
MCC: I share the concerns of the parents in our communities. I too believe that we should be doing a better of job of preparing our youth to assume the responsibilities that coming from conducting the affairs of the nation. We also need to do a better job of preparing our youth to take advantage of the unparalleled opportunities which lie before us in building the Cree Nation.
We urgently need real education for our youth, as opposed to warehousing. Like in every other area of the life of our nation, we must identify what it means to provide education for our youth, which is compatible with our culture and prepares our children for the real life they will be facing in Eeyou Istchee. This is something that only we ourselves can do. Only we understand what works for us culturally and only we can figure out how to shape our education system in a way that addresses the needs of our current and future development.
Education is an issue for every family. What do you want for your children’s future? The issues involved in improving educational performance are many. They include parenting, dealing with gangs and bullying, establishing the aims of education, role models and their importance to encouraging the youth. The aims of the educational system have to be varied, to protect Cree culture on the one hand and on the other to promote broad educational aims as are accepted in the western world. The internet brings the power of many libraries of information to our schools and homes. Students must be guided in their use of this resource so that it benefits their educations, their future prospects for a career and indirectly benefits the Cree Nation.
I also believe that the invention of appropriate approaches for the education of our children is a leadership issue. I will be encouraging closer ties between the Grand Council of the Crees and the Cree School Board so that we can do the fundamental thinking about this issue and begin to develop a process of change so that our education system works for our children and for us as a nation.
I will also soon be announcing some special initiatives involving our youth as a means to enlist their energies and their enthusiasm in making a contribution to the building of the Cree Nation. It is important for all of us in leadership positions to take on the responsibility of inspiring our youth to make a historic contribution to the Cree Nation. This will encourage our youth to become involved and also to become responsible participants in shaping the future of our nation. If, as we always say, the future will be in the hands of our youth, we have the responsibility for creating the opportunities for them to become involved now so that when they do assume those responsibilities they will be able to do so well-prepared.
We all need to inspire our youth to develop the skills and the expertise to lead our nation to greater heights.
TN: Coming into 2010, what is your greatest concern for the Cree Nation?
MCC: The early days of my new administration have been all about renewing the vision of the Cree Nation and working together with various levels of government to move forward. We need to keep moving forward as a strong and united nation.
As a young nation we need unity more than ever. It is too easy to think that since we now have new agreements in place with guaranteed sources of financial resources that we can sit back and do nothing. But this is a false illusion.
As I stated in my campaign, we are now at a crossroads in the history of the Cree Nation. We have before us the potential to become the major force in the economic, political and social life of northern Quebec. Whether or not we realize this potential will depend almost entirely on us. Only we will determine if we are up to the challenge.
We, of course, still have struggles to engage in to ensure that governments respect our rights and respect the spirit of the agreements we have signed. The role of MBJ within our territory must be firmly addressed. Development plans for our territory cannot be permitted without our consent or without our involvement. We will all need to stand as one in order to achieve a successful outcome to these struggles.
We must guard against complacency and the illusion that our future has been secured. In reality, 20, 40 and 50 years will pass, and if we have not laid a solid foundation for our nation to prosper – a solid economy, a solid form of governance, a solid approach for dealing with our social problems, a solid educational system, a solid health system – the long-term future could be very bleak. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to do what we can to secure the future for our children and our children’s children.
If we do not meet the challenges before us, then in the long term we will be relegated to the margins of society, always thinking and acting as victims, and always asking others to solve our problems.
It is now time for all of us to step up to the plate and not shrink from the challenges. We must be truly united to meet these challenges; united within our families, united within our community and united within our nation. The enormity of the challenge requires nothing less.
To move forward requires everyone’s efforts and everyone’s contributions. We cannot afford to exclude people who can make a contribution and we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. To be truly united and inclusive means being able to recognize and embrace everyone for the contribution which they can make to assist us, supporting everyone to be the best they can be, and walking “together in unity” to meet our important challenges.
TN: What do you see as the most positive thing happening in Eeyou Istchee today?
MCC: During the election campaign I had the opportunity to visit every Cree community and talk to people at length about their concerns and about their dreams for the future. What became apparent to me in those visits is that all of our communities are beginning to address many of the needs for which we have been fighting for so long. We have really begun to reap the benefits of our difficult struggles for recognition of our fundamental rights and for the tools to be able to address the develop needs of our communities.
Along with that improvement in the living conditions of our communities has come a tangible sense of optimism for the future. This optimism and the enthusiasm that comes with that will be a wonderful springboard to continue to address the challenges which are before us. We will be able to do that now, not as victims of our colonial past, but as a forward-looking young nation re-inventing ourselves to create a future for our descendants in which everyone can take pride in. While we must guard against complacency and continually nurture that sense of optimism I believe that all the tools necessary to build a positive future are coming together as we have always dreamed of and struggled for.
TN: What do you see coming in the new year that every Cree should be aware of?
MCC: We have the agreement with Canada on the Eeyou Marine Region. This will be the subject of consultations in the communities starting in January and continuing until the beginning of a two-week referendum voting period. I ask all of the eligible voters (those 18 years of age on or before March 26, 2010) to come out and help the Cree Nation with your vote. The agreement will secure the recognition by Canada of our ownership of the islands, including the mineral rights in the subsurface area of the islands. It will protect our right to hunt, fish and trap in the offshore area as we have always done. The CTA will be engaged to help monitor the wildlife. Moreover this agreement does not touch Cree rights to future agreements on Cree governance over the area. I think that this is a good agreement and I ask that you attend the meetings and become informed about its contents.
In the coming year we may well also have a process in place to address the territorial governance issue. Either way, we will see progress in discussions with Quebec or we will have to implement other means to protect and promote our rights over the area.
TN: What is your New Year’s resolution?
MCC: I do not make any New Year’s resolutions. I try to live every day with my principles and beliefs.
TN: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
MCC: I would first of all like to take this opportunity to wish all our Cree people, all those who work in our entities, and all of our friends throughout Quebec and Canada a very merry and joyous holiday season and my best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year.
I am deeply appreciative of all the support I have had in my early months in office from people in our communities and within our Cree entities. I am very appreciative of the hard work on the part of the people working in our Cree entities who strive every day to improve the quality of life in our communities.
During the recent election campaign I listened carefully to what people were saying about what was important to them. And basically what I heard was two recurring themes. People expect a staunch defense of our rights on the one hand, and on the other, they want to see the benefits associated with the kinds of agreements we have signed recently with the governments of Quebec and Canada. These are not incompatible expectations, in fact, what we should continue to strive for is the development of arrangements which reflect both our fundamental rights and address our development needs for the future. I have received and understood my marching orders from the people.
As passionately as I have been a defender of Cree rights, I am equally passionate about building the Cree Nation – and for me this means building our economy, our education system, our health and social services system, our justice system – all within the context of the preservation of our Cree culture and Cree values. Let us preserve who we are, our identity, as we embrace the changes and opportunities that are before us.