Premier Charest, Mayor Labeaume, Mayor Cyr, Mr. Gignac, Mr. Corbeil, Messrs. Sauvé, ladies and gentlemen: It is an honour for me to speak to you this evening on the occasion of this special joint mission related to the Plan Nord. Unfortunately, I could not join you this morning due to a previous commitment I had with the Youth of the Cree Nation. However, I'm happy to be with you all this evening. I want to take this opportunity to also wish all of you a very Happy New Year.
This mission represents a further step in the realization of initiatives related to the "North" which will have monumental historic importance for this region and for the whole of Quebec.
Premier Charest has put forward an ambitious plan for the rational and sustainable development of the north, including Eeyou Istchee, our traditional Cree homeland, which will see very substantial investments in resource development activities as well as the infrastructure required for such development to take place.
We have told Premier Charest, and he has heard us, that any plan for the development of the resources within Eeyou Istchee must involve the Cree Nation and our communities. It must acknowledge the special nation-to-nation relationship between the Government of Quebec and the Cree Nation as expressed in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and in the "Paix des Braves". And, development projects must also meet our requirements for social and environmental acceptability.
Like any nation, our approach to development involves a reconciliation of different, and sometimes competing, interests among our population. Like any nation, we must reconcile the fundamental need to develop the resources within our jurisdiction with certain social objectives including the protection of the environment, the continuing availability of resources for future generations, and respect for different uses of the land and its resources. This is sometimes not an easy or a smooth balancing. Sometimes there is disagreement and conflict. In this respect, the Cree Nation is no different from any other nation charged with the task of addressing the fundamental needs of its population. We cannot go backward in history, nor can we remain static. What is at stake for the Cree Nation over the coming few years is nothing more nor less than the setting of the direction for the future of our young nation—whether we regress to being marginalized within our own territory and watch passively as development passes us by, or whether we will fulfill the promise and the destiny of becoming a healthy and prosperous aboriginal nation by laying a solid economic and political foundation for our future generations. The Cree Nation, now and in the future, looks to our land, Eeyou Istchee and its bountifulness, to sustain us in the future as it has always done in the past.
I'm always reminded with the voice of the Cree Youth that they want job opportunities; as well they remind us that we must ensure the land still continues to be bountiful and provide for future generations.
We may have a different way of relying on the land today than we did in the past, and there is little doubt that in the future it will be different also, but there is no question that the land, and our relationship to the land, will be the basis of our future.
It is recognized within the Cree Nation that we have a fundamental imperative. That imperative is to create employment, to provide reasonable incomes for our people, and to create the internal wealth which will be the solid basis of our existence as a healthy nation. I can tell you unequivocally that the Cree Nation is committed to achieving this objective and to creating the conditions to ensure that it is achievable.
We have also told Premier Charest that it is essential, if the Plan Nord is to succeed, to address crucial issues related to the governance of the region. The current governance arrangement excludes us from decision-making with respect to the lands and resources within our traditional territory. This is not acceptable, and to his credit, Premier Charest has also found this not to be acceptable. We are currently in discussions to finalize the Framework Agreement which we signed this past May. If we are successful, we will put into place a "made-in-the-North" regime for the governance of the region which will be inclusive, which will be democratic, and which will be effective.
Today, I would like to reaffirm the commitment of the Cree Nation to the objective of working together with our neighbours in the region to ensure that development of the resources of the North benefits the residents of the North and our working together to effectively govern the region. I also wish to declare, without ambiguity, without hesitation, and without any doubt in my mind, that if Premier Charest and our Grand Chief are successful in the approach being taken to the Plan Nord and to the establishment of a new governance regime, then we can all look forward to the mutually respectful partnerships that will result in the appropriate development of the resources within Eeyou Istchee, and which will benefit all peoples in this region and throughout Quebec.
As the discussions related to the Plan Nord, and as the discussions related to a new governance regime have progressed over recent months, we have come to the understanding that, from the perspective of geography and the distribution of natural resources, the North is very unique and special. This unique set of physical and geographic characteristics requires special measures, adapted measures, and creative thinking, to be able to achieve the grand visions which have been articulated and which are possible. This is true not only for the initiatives related to the development of the resources, but also, for the way in which the North is governed.
Associated with these initiatives is a very profound understanding on the part of Premier Charest that, if they are to be successful and if they are to stand the test of time, these initiatives must be genuinely inclusive of all the peoples who live in this region.
What Premier Charest and the Cree Nation have embarked upon is nothing less than a demonstration of what it means for the larger society to be inclusive of aboriginal peoples in its economic and political fabric. What we will achieve, if we are successful in this endeavour, is to create a new vision and a new model of society which is based on an acknowledgement of fundamental human rights, aboriginal rights, equity and fairness. If we are successful, this will be a model for Canada and for the world. We will show the path for how things should be and could be arranged in a new way that is fitting for a democratic society in the 21st century. We are proud that we will have been able to do this in Quebec.
As always, we will continue to walk and work with those members of the non-aboriginal communities in our region who understand how our circumstances are intertwined, and how, by working together we can achieve a future which can be of benefit to us all. We who are residents of this region are on the brink of a new and honourable challenge to start a new journey together and to build a new relationship based on mutual respect, mutual concern and mutual interests. It is in the interest of all of us to work together to build a solid economic future for all residents of the region and a workable, practical and democratic governance regime to make all this possible.
Lastly, I do know there will be an office set up for the Plan Nord Society and I would suggest having it in this region since majority of the development will be in this area. I know our journey together will be a successful one, and may we, in the course of our journey, become closer friends. Meegwetch, merci, thank you.