At the annual General Assembly in Waswanipi on August 7, 2014, the members of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/Cree Nation Government (GCC(EI)/CNG) adopted, Resolution 2014-10: Resolution Regarding Adoption and Implementation of Uniform Interpretation of 10-Year Clause in Section 3.2.7 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement [JBNQA] to Promote Education of Cree Youth.
This effort started as a result of the Cree School Board’s (CSB) practice of denying post-secondary education assistance to Cree beneficiaries who have not resided for 183 consecutive days in Eeyou Istchee within the past 10 years. The CSB relies on its 2003 internal policy interpreting section 3.2.7 of the JBNQA, which is more commonly known as “the 10-year clause” and reads as follows:
“In the event [a Cree beneficiary] is absent from the Territory during ten continuous years and is domiciled outside the Territory, such person shall not be entitled to exercise his rights or receive benefits under the Agreement. Upon such person re-establishing his domicile in the Territory, the right of such person to exercise his rights or to receive benefits under the Agreement shall revive.” (Emphasis added.)
The 10-year clause plainly states that Cree beneficiaries who are domiciled outside Eeyou Istchee remain entitled to their rights and benefits under the JBNQA unless they are also “absent from the Territory during ten continuous years.” There is no 183-day residency requirement in the JBNQA or any of the laws or regulations implementing it.
This is an issue that affects many, if not most, extended families in Eeyou Istchee. As a result of the Indian residential school era and unconstitutional “Indian status” laws, many of our people, particularly our women, were displaced and their descendants have grown up outside Eeyou Istchee. Insufficient housing and employment, inadequate schools, and social problems have contributed to keeping those descendants away or driving others to look for better opportunities “down south.”
If the 10-year clause does not yet affect your family, it is likely to in the future as your grandchildren and great-grandchildren come of age. It is our duty as grandparents, parents, aunties and uncles, to protect the rights of our future generations and ensure that they receive the post-secondary education benefits to which they are entitled.
Resolution 2014-10 requires that the Board of the GCC(EI)/CNG adopt the uniform interpretation of the 10-year clause set out in the resolution and to take prompt steps to work with the CSB and other entities to ensure those agencies implement the uniform interpretation. The uniform interpretation recognizes that:
- 1) Cree beneficiaries who are domiciled outside Eeyou Istchee for 10 consecutive years remain entitled to exercise rights and receive benefits under the JBNQA if they visit Eeyou Istchee during that period and have social, economic, political or cultural ties with their Cree community; and
- 2) since children have little to no control over where they live or travel, the 10-year period does not begin to run until a Cree beneficiary turns 18 (in other words, Cree beneficiaries remain entitled to the rights and benefits of the JBNQA until age 28, regardless of their domicile).
The Chairperson of the CSB publicly stated, in an article in the September 5, 2014 issue of The Nation, that the CSB will continue to stick to its restrictive policy on the 10-year clause, regardless of the resolution adopted by the members of the GCC(EI)/CNG. She was also quoted as saying that she was assured by the Grand Chief and Corporate Secretary of the GCC(EI)/CNG that the resolution is simply “a nonbinding recommendation.”
The GCC(EI)/CNG Board met in Chisasibi on September 24 and 25, 2014, for the first time after the 2014 Annual General Assembly. One of their agenda items was implementation of Resolution 2014-10. The Board directed the Corporate Secretary, John Paul Murdoch, to analyze the issues and report back to the Board at its next meeting, in December 2014.
The Executive Committee of the GCC(EI)/CNG Board met on October 16, 2014, and discussed ongoing negotiations with Quebec and Canada to amend the 10-year clause. The proposed amendment, which came about before Resolution 2014-10 was adopted, would create a new exemption to the 10-year clause for certain Cree beneficiaries who are absent from Eeyou Istchee during 10 continuous years. As currently drafted, it does not expressly affirm that the amendment does not limit the rights of Cree beneficiaries who are domiciled outside Eeyou Istchee but who have not been absent during 10 continuous years.
The GCC(EI)/CNG Board met in Gatineau on December 18, 2014. They adopted a resolution establishing a “Working Group on the Ten-Year Clause” to evaluate the implications of adopting the uniform interpretation of the 10-year clause approved by the membership in Resolution 2014-10. The Working Group is comprised of two representatives of the GCC(EI)/CNG (Paul John Murdoch and Bill Namagoose), two representatives of the CSB, and two representatives of the Cree Board of Health.
The Working Group is mandated to “hear and receive, from any interested Cree beneficiary or Cree entity, their views, opinions, submissions and considerations concerning the interpretation and application of the ten-year clause.” The Working Group must report back to the GCC(EI)/CNG Board within 6 months with recommendations to ensure a uniform interpretation and application of the 10-year clause by the Cree entities who administer JBQA benefits.
The Working Group met on February 17, 2015, to determine how to proceed. It is expected that they will establish a timeline and process for Cree beneficiaries and Cree entities to provide their feedback, so their final report can be presented to the membership at the Annual General Assembly in August 2015.
Please take the time to educate yourselves about the issue and make sure your voice is heard. The rights of our future generations are at stake. By participating in the Working Group process and attending the Annual General Assembly in August you can help ensure that our leaders implement the will of Eeyouch/Eenouch as expressed in Resolution 2014-10.
For more information see www.facebook.com/tenyearclause, a public forum for Cree beneficiaries who want to learn more about the issue.
Joanne Willis Newton
Member of Cree Nation of Chisasibi