There’s a lot of talk about the proposed Cree constitution. Many are asking worried questions about what it means and what will it do for the Cree Nation.
Straight off, it’s important for me to say that I support the adoption of a constitution for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. The reason for this is simple. It is another step in taking control of our future as a People and a Nation. It is making choices about our lives that do not have to be approved or accepted by either the federal or provincial government.
Crees have stated over and over that we have never given up our inherent right to self-government and self-determination. The Cree constitution is a step in that direction. While it might not be as all-encompassing of the Eeyou traditional territory as I would wish, it is a start. A start that many other First Nations would wish to have. It certainly brings home the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which states Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination and because of that they should determine their political status and be able to follow their own path to economic, social and cultural development.
No longer would Cree First Nations have to send in financial reports to the governments or have them appoint an auditor. However, we will have to ensure that band members see the reports within 180 days of the end of the fiscal year. No longer would outside governments have a say in what by-laws are acceptable in the communities. In fact, we will have the power to pass laws that reflect the Cree way-of-life.
The constitution will not be written in stone and can be changed to reflect new conditions. Any amendments will be determined only by the Cree Nation as a whole and will not involve Canada or Quebec. It does not affect Cree governance on Category II or III lands and only applies to Category 1A lands (and Category III enclaves such as Hudson Bay and other church leases). It will have the force of law and Canadian constitutional protection.
This constitution means that the Cree will no longer be wards of the state. It’s about time. No longer will we be treated as “Indian” children to be protected and told what to do. That means a lot. It also means that we have to take on the responsibilities, obligations and rights of an adult in the world around us. You can study the proposed Cree constitution at your local band office.
Yes, this is a challenge, but not unlike the challenge the Cree faced back in the 1970s when the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was negotiated and signed. This step is not the only one we will take in determining the future of the Cree as a People and a Nation, but it is one we should all take part in.