Cree Referendum Approves New Agreement with Quebec

NEMASKA, Quebec, Canada, February 5, 2002 (ENS) - In secret ballot referendums held among the Cree which ended Sunday, close to 70 percent voted to approve an Agreement in Principle establishing a new relationship between the government of Québec and the James Bay Crees.

The Agreement in Principle, reached last October 23, will allow hydropower and forestry development that has been blocked by disputes between the indigenous people and the provincial government.

"This is an historic moment for the Crees," said Grand Chief Ted Moses. "We will build our communities, find and create employment opportunities for the Crees in the development of the territory and we will build our Nation."

"This is an agreement to implement Québec's obligations under section 28 of the [1975] James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement while at the same time it preserves and increases the Cree rights in the agreement. It is an agreement that vindicates the long Cree campaign since 1975 to have our rights respected," Chief Moses said.

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James Bay Dam (Photo courtesy Harvey Feit)
The agreement includes cash payments to the Cree of C$24 million in 2002, C$46 million the following year, then C$70 million a year for 48 years. The Cree also get more control over their community and economy, more power over logging and more Hydro-Quebec jobs.

"We will receive from Quebec payments in order for us to properly carry out these responsibilities in accordance with priorities and means which we, the Cree, deem appropriate for our own development." said Chief Moses when the Agreement in Principle was signed last October.

In return, the Cree have promised to drop C$3.6 billion in environmental lawsuits against the government.

The Cree also agreed to accept hydropower installations along the Eastman River and Rupert River, subject to environmental approval.

The agreement will allow Hydro-Québec to build its planned C$3.8-billion Eastmain and Rupert hydroelectric projects, part of the controversial James Bay power development plan. The projects will generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity when they are completed in 10 years.

The Cree position concerning hydropower has changed since the 1990s when a Cree campaign managed to keep the province of Quebec from building the Great Whale River hydro-electric project as the second phase of its plan, first announced in 1971, to dam and divert almost every major river running into James and Hudson Bays.

That effort by the Cree included an eight million dollar lawsuit and an information campaign aimed at power customers in the New England.

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Quebec Premier Bernard Landry (Photo courtesy Office of the Premier)
The traditional terrority of the James Bay Cree Nation is in boreal, subarctic Canada. It has been adversely affected by hydroelectric mega-projects involving river diversions and river basin re-engineering since the 1970s, according to the Cree submission to the World Commission on Dams in November 2000.

"We have been dispossessed, displaced and environmentally, culturally, economically and socially devastated by large hydro-development projects, initiated and built in our traditional lands by the state owned electricity corporations Hydro-Quebec and Manitoba Hydro respectively, against our wishes and without our consent," the Cree said.

The governments of Canada, Quebec and Manitoba "have benefited from over 20 years of multi-billion dollar revenues at our expense," the Cree said, and they have not "adequately mitigated, remediated or compensated us as peoples for the profound and ongoing injuries and losses we have suffered."

"Deprived of adequate lands and resources, we now endure mass poverty and unemployment, ill health including epidemics of infectious disease and suicide, and crises of hopelessness and despair," they said.

This new agreement offers hope for a new relationship between the province of Quebec and the Cree Nation, said Chief Moses.

The agreement settles forestry disputes between Quebec and the Cree. The Quebec forestry regime will apply in Northern Quebec, but major adaptations will be made to this regime to ensure the protection of the Cree traditional way of life.

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Cree mothers and babies at a walking out ceremony. (Photo courtesy Cree Nation of Eastmain)
A joint Cree-Quebec Forestry Board will review forestry regulations and forestry plans for Cree territory and provide recommendations to conciliate forestry activities with the Cree traditional uses of the territory and the protection of the natural environment. "We will also be closely involved in all aspects of forestry planning and management through meaningful and results oriented consultation processes at the community level," Chief Moses said.

No other agreement entered into between the Crees and any government has been subjected to referendum processes involving the Cree Nation as a whole.

The whole process involved two tours of the communities by the Cree leaders during which the people debated the issues more than at any time in recent Cree history. At the end of this, the Cree leadership listened to the demands of the Cree people and sought political confirmation through referendum processes of the decision to proceed or not with this new agreement.

"A substantial portion of the Cree People have obviously supported and endorsed the position taken by the majority of their leaders in favor of the new agreement," Chief Moses said Sunday.

Chief Moses and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry are to meet Thursday for a formal signing.

Implementation of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by the government of Canada is still subject to court proceedings.