Around 20 representatives of Indigenous nations from Brazil, Chile, Nigeria, Mongolia, Sweden, New Zealand and other places around the world gathered in Eeyou Istchee last week to discuss economic and resource development on Indigenous lands.
They shared their own personal challenges, experiences and successes and learned how the Cree Nation was able to secure important treaties and play a leading role in the development of the James Bay region while ensuring sustainability and economic benefits.
They were meeting with the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) when CNG legal advisor John Paul Murdoch suggested adding a visit to Waskaganish for a few attendees of the IAIA’s international conference addressing climate change in Montreal April 4-7.
According to Cree negotiator Abel Bosum, the visitors came both to share and to learn. A lot of them were impressed with the Cree Nation’s track record in opposing unwanted development and negotiating deals with the provincial and federal governments.
Bosum says that while the Niskamoon Corporation has been working with the IAIA for the past five years, John Paul Murdoch was responsible for initiating the meeting that took place in Waskaganish, dubbed the “Aashukan Indigenous Gathering”.
“A lot of the work [the IAIA and Niskamoon] had been doing was scientific, but very little of it was grassroots,” Bosum told the Nation. “John Paul Murdoch invited them to come to Waskaganish along with the Indigenous groups that were coming to the conference in Montreal. Roughly 25 to 30 people from around the world came to learn and share their views of how impact assessment should be carried out in relation to resource development.
Ijeoma Vincent-Akpu of Nigeria said she was attending the conference and the visit to Waskaganish to bring back encouragement and advice for the people she works with in the Niger Delta and is confident she’s achieved that goal.
“I’ve learned from the Cree community, how they have worked together to achieve what they have now,” she told CBC. “Theirs is a successful story, which I’m going to take back to my community.”
“People came to see if there was something they could learn from other groups and, of course, from the Cree,” Bosum added. “With our experience in hydroelectric development, mining and forestry, we have already had to deal with all of these issues. It has taken us 40 years to get to where we are today, from the point where a hydroelectric project was announced without our consent. We had to take it to court and we’ve had many, many battles along the way.”
Bosum cited the numerous deals signed with Canada and Quebec by the Cree Nation Government as proof of just how far the Cree Nation has come and an example of what Indigenous communities can accomplish when they work together and assert their rights over their sovereign territory.
“From the JBNQA to the Paix des Braves to the Governance Agreement with Canada, these agreements are all positioning us to be players in not only assessing the impact and minimizing it, but also seeing some economic benefits,” he said.
Asked to sum up his experience of receiving an international delegation on Cree land, Bosum said it opened his eyes to the struggles faced by other First Nations and also brought him back to a time when Crees were still fighting for their own rights.
“It was both educational and nostalgic,” he said. “It made me think back to when we were in their situation, where their rights are not being recognized. At the same time there were also people from Australia and New Zealand who are advanced in governance and resource management.”