The Grand Council of the Crees

Presentation by Grand Chief Matthew Mukash

Quebec Mining Conference: November 2008

Posted: 2008-11-28

Kwey! Grand Chief Matthew Mukash at Cree Mineral Exploration Board Nov. 2008


I thank the organizers for the invitation to speak today. Development in the James Bay Territory or Eeyou Istchee, as the Crees call it, is an important issue for Quebec as it is also for the people who live there and call the territory their home.

Northern Quebec has been described as the area with the best potential for mining development in North America. The Cree People want to be involved in the development of the mineral resources as it is one of the important economic potentials that we have. We need employment and business opportunities and we are determined to do what it takes to ensure that these potentials are developed with our community interests front and center.

To explain the challenges that we see ahead I must digress and give you some of the recent history of the Crees.

The Crees occupy the land as we always have done, with 300 family hunting territories and over 600 permanent camps located on an area of more than 345,000 square kilometres. Our traditional organization and way of life on the land has been recognized by Canada and by Quebec in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the Cree and Inuit rights in that treaty were recognized and protected by the Constitution of Canada in 1982.

Economic growth brought the industrial world to our doorstep when mining development brought the infrastructure that ushered in forestry development to the areas of Matagami and Chibougamau in the 1950's. At the time, some of our people found ways of combining life on the land with seasonal employment and a few took on permanent employment.

The full implication of industrial development became more evident to us when in the early 1970's Quebec proposed to build the hydroelectric projects that became known as the James Bay Project: namely the Nottaway-Broadback-Rupert Complex; the La Grande Complex and the Great Whale River Complex. This proposal and the beginning of the work on the La Grande River sparked a legal and political battle between the Crees and Quebec that was only resolved in 1975 with the singing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

The remedial works for the La Grande Complex and Cree consent to the completion of that project were part of the mix of concessions and benefits decided by the Crees, Canada and Quebec in the Agreement. Included in the out-of-court settlement were: an income security program for trappers; compensation for damages; social and environmental impact assessment regimes for future development; commitments to Cree community development; promised inclusion of Crees in the economic development of the Territory through contract, training and employment opportunities and commitments for Cree involvement in the governance of the Territory. As the senior negotiator for Quebec, John Ciaccia commented at the time:

"Why do we want to do all this? Simply because there are people living in the North, who need public services, who are counting on good administration of their affairs, and who have a right to participate in that administration. The principles of sound and rational administration prompt us to act in this manner. The well-being and the interests of the people require that we do it."

He also affirmed to the National Assembly the commitment to Cree participation in the governance of the Territory.

The James Bay Agreement provided some relief to trappers whose lands were impacted by the La Grande Project. These measures did not compensate but at least they provided means to stay on the land and to continue to practice traditional ways and to adapt them to the changes.

The Agreement also provided means for the communities to begin building infrastructure, schools and health clinics. Many people chose to take up permanent employment in the institutions created, but the reality was that the means provided fell far short of what was needed.

Following the signature of the James Bay Agreement both Canada and Quebec reneged on many of their obligations to the Crees. The La Grande Project proceeded, but we did not have the resources to the build our nation so our people were unable to fully benefit from regional developments or participate in the economic, social and political life of Quebec and Canada. For 14 years until 1989 we sought justice through discussions with government, without much result.

In that year the Government of Quebec announced that it would proceed with the NBR and Great Whale Projects. We saw things otherwise. Quebec had reneged on the treaty and we therefore sought our rights and compensation in the courts for what had not been done. Employment creation in development had only benefitted the Crees during construction and that was inadequate. The land however continued to provide to our hunters in spite of the impacts of development. Development, we concluded, was not in our interest. We therefore fought these projects through the courts, in regulatory regimes in the United States, in Europe and at the United Nations.

We took our canoe of protest to the canals of Amsterdam " where we also laid claim to Europe. We staked our clamis for mining and other activies. We thought it was expected of us!
In the end Premier Parizeau put the projects on ice in 1993.

With the election of the Party Quebecois Government, the forum for the defence of our rights then became the sovereignty debate that ensued. We held our own referendum with the result that our people refused consent to any unilateral abrogation of our rights through withdrawal of our people, lands and communities from Canada.

It was only after these two political events that Quebec and the Crees began to discuss how the rest of the treaty might be implemented.

The Paix des Braves Agreement of 2002 was in fact the result of 27 years of effort. But the Agreement was itself a big step in correcting the failures of the past implementation of the 1975 Agreement, as it left the discretion over the priorities up to the Cree People and it provided financial means to implement these obligations.

Six years later it was the Federal Government that adopted a similar model in implementing its obligations to the Crees. The new model in the Canada " Cree New Relationship Agreement also incorporates a new initiative on Cree governance, one that also includes discussions with Quebec on the next steps in regional government. In short, we are years behind in implementing the measures set out in 1975 but we at least now have means to move forward. A generation of Crees was deprived of some of its treaty rights.

The Paix des Brave Agreement also carved out a portion of the work to be done on the EM1 and EM1A Projects for Cree companies. It provided special training initiatives for the permanent employment of Crees at Hydro Quebec. Moreover the EM1A Project set new standards for the involvement of the Crees in remedial measures and in the design of a hydro project so as to preserve fish habitat and productivity. Such measures are designed to allow the impacted trappers to re-appropriate the control and knowledge of their lands that they had before the development occurred.

"Development", we use this word often. Development is of course the de-envelopment the unwrapping and revealing of the hidden potentials that exist in a place. Development must be holistic if it is to meet the social and environmental requirements to be sustainable. Development cannot go ahead unless it preserves the natural productivity of the environment and when it does not do so, compensatory measures must be undertaken, for example to re-establish fish habitat and the species found in a locality. One of the potentials that must be developed is that of the local human populations. Development cannot go ahead if it is seen by local communities only as a destructive force that does not provide opportunity or restorative measures. The Cree communities have a tradition of caring for their community members. We usually act on the basis of consensus. This means that when a project is proposed, we ensure that the ones most impacted are taken care of just as we ensure that there are opportunities for those looking for employment.

Since 1975 our population has grown from just over 6000 to just over 17,000. We look to new technologies and to traditional hunting to provide for our population that is now greater than what the land can provide through the wildlife resources alone. Each year over 200 new job entrants come out of school and look for employment. We must have the cooperation of all employers in the communities and in the region so that training programs can be set up to look after the needs of everyone.

Some non-Crees, including developers and government people, take the view that the Paix Des Braves settled all matters relating to the Crees claims over the JBNQA Territory and beyond, including the right to benefit from the natural resources in therein, and that we must back off and let the developers and Quebec get on with the development of the territory. This is not true, and we will never back off! The Paix des Braves is an implementation agreement in which Quebec agrees to settle certain of its obligations to the Crees stemming from the 1975 JBNQA. Even with this agreement, the Crees do not even have the resources to meet present housing needs. We will always search to have full employment as people who are able and who earn salaries contribute first to their own well-being and, secondly, to the larger society. Resource development in Eeyou Istchee is therefore on our agenda for the future.

In Northern Quebec the new standard for developers was set by the new Agreements between the Crees and Hydro Quebec on hydroelectric development. The Boumhounan and Nadoshtin Agreements, as parts of the Paix des Braves, set the new standard for developers in Quebec for working with Aboriginal Peoples.

Each new project brings employment and business development opportunities that are essential to communities in remote areas where opportunity is rare. Agreements must be negotiated to make use of and expand the synergies that can be created between local communities and developers, and also to set out required remedial and compensatory measures. Such agreements will of course have to be scaled to the ability of a given development to support such measures and must be proportional to the predicted damages of a given project.

For the last eight (8) years the Cree Regional Authority Department of Human Resource Development and the Cree School Board department of Adult education have invested in training initiatives for development often negotiated with proponents of projects. The largest employer of Crees to date in the mining industry was the Troilus Mine where at one point there were over 130 Cree workers. Most recently Metanor has also entered into such a training agreement for the Bachelor Lake site.

The Grand Council of the Cree/Cree Regional Authority is the legal guarantor of treaty rights to the Cree population so proponents should be aware that they must deal with Grand Council and through it the local communities and trappers.

Moreover the Cree Regional Authority and Quebec under the Paix des Braves set up a Cree Mineral Exploration Board that promotes the involvement of Cree companies in mineral exploration and provides through the services of the Cree Regional Geologist, advice on the potentials and activities on the territory.

At the present time the community of Wemindji and the Grand Council have entered into a pre-development Agreement with Opinaca Mining on their advanced development activities. The community of Mistissini has great interest in the uranium, diamond and other deposits north of the community in the Otish Mountains.
Mining developments require many years to bring into production. Similarly, the Cree communities situated as they are in remote areas must plan for the long-term development of infrastructures that will serve future generations. We therefore have similar interests in development and can mutually benefit from joint planning. In this regard I salute Opinaca and Wemindji Community for the extent of their collaborative measures.

We are now it seems in a world-scale economic downturn. It is evident on the other hand that the world population is growing and that by the year 2050 there will be 9 billion of us, half again as many people as there are today. The demand for minerals can only increase over the long term. This bodes well for the mining developments in Northern Quebec. If we look to other parts of Canada there are many where mining development has been the cause of building infrastructure that gradually brought economic diversification and prosperity. Let us look to our mutual interests in undertaking our projects and lets us also look for ways to resolve problems together, always guided by the principles of mutual respect, mutual trust and cooperation!

Meegwetch! Thank you! Merci!

Grand Chief Matthew Mukash

Read the associated article "Cree looking to benefit from northern development" from the Gazette