JBNQA first comprehensive agreement in Canada, says Cree leader

This article was submitted on March 23, 2018, and has not been published since today. To remain accurate and transparent of when the article was created, the information is left untouched and some information may not be valid.

By Nick Wapachee

Bill Namagoose, Executive Director, Cree Nation Government and Grand Council of the Crees, says that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) is the first comprehensive agreement in Canada.

“It was the Cree who stretched that policy to include everything,” said Namagoose, “like hunting, fishing and trapping, environmental assessment and local government.”

Namagoose noted that the Cree and Inuit were given rights and title to the land by the Crown through the 1975 agreement. Some include control over education, health, justice, land regime and benefits for the signatories.

The treaty was a direct response to the hydroelectrical projects that threatened their way of life, which was hunting and gathering. The Cree and Inuit now have a territory in northern Quebec that covers 656,000 square kilometers. There are 11 Cree communities and 15 Inuit communities. good details

According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the federal government developed Comprehensive and Specific Claims Policies in 1973 to better address First Nations claims and rights.

The comprehensive policy came right after the 1972 Superior Court of Quebec decision on the James Bay Cree, which recognized their Aboriginal rights and title over the land.

The JBNQA is a modern-day treaty for the James Bay Cree and the Inuit of Quebec and the Inuit of Port Burwell. The treaty was signed in 1975 by the Government of Quebec, Hydro-Quebec and the Government of Canada. The JBNQA has 31 sections and 12 complementary agreements, which gives controlover basic human needs for the Cree and Inuit.

“They say it’s the most comprehensive by the federal government in that policy. Now, it’s very restrictive,” said Namagoose.

He said that other Aboriginal groups are not able to fully access this comprehensive policy like the James Bay Cree, and that policy was diminished to the exchange of land, where other Aboriginal groups would fall under a policy relationship over treaty relationship.

“The Crees were lucky,” Namagoose said, “we were the first ones in.”

Some Aboriginal groups in Quebec don’t have a treaty or a legal framework like the James Bay Cree. The modern-day agreement was later recognized as a treaty after the Constitution Act of 1982, which gave the Cree legal and political status in Quebec and Canada.

“Canada and Quebec don’t like the JBNQA,” Namagoose said, “they want us to live under a policy relationship, which would dictate how we live.”

Namagoose said the JBNQA currently gives the Cree control over their destiny, but they will have greater autonomy once their Cree Constitution passes in the Senate of Canada, which will have a force of law in the Cree Nation.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect treaty that just sits there and all of the sudden and grows out of it by just looking at it,” he said. “You have to breathe life into it.”

Which is what the Cree did for their nation after fighting to implement the services in the agreement for their people.

“[The Government of Canada] has been trying to hallow it out,” he said, “and asking us to sign off on it.”

He said if the Cree signed off on the agreement, it would terminate the treaty relationship immediately and replace it under a policy agreement, which is a mistake they want to avoid.

“They did that to the Crees in Manitoba,” he said, “they got them to sign away their treaty going into the implementation agreement. They don’t get the benefits anymore.

According to Namagoose, the Northern Flood Agreement of 1977 caused tensions among the five nations and their relationship with Manitoba Hydro.

He said their agreement was created via a Grand Council, and all the communities gathered and negotiated with Manitoba Hydro, which was similar to JBNQA.

After the negotiations and signing of the agreement, the Manitoba Cree said that they did not want their Grand Council anymore and dismantled it.

“They thought they could just go home and wait for the benefits to come,” Namagoose said. “There were no benefits.”

He said that a nation needs unity and a strong political status to be taken seriously in negotiations and avoid mishaps such as this one.

Other Aboriginal groups in Canada have numbered treaties, which are land stamps from Treaty 1 to Treaty 11 signed by the Monarch of Canada. These cover a fraction of monetary compensation from natural resources but will not recognize Aboriginal rights over land.

“They stole their land for $4,” Namagoose said. “There’s nothing in a treaty except for land exchange for a few dollars a year.”

He said that the Government of Canada is content when other First Nation groups say their treaties are sacred and cannot be touched.

“The government is happy just to pay them $4 a year,” he said, “there’s a big difference between the JBNQA and the numbered treaties.”

The James Bay Cree receive about $130 million since 1975, and that’s about $500 to $600 million in today’s dollars, according to Namagoose.

Two Cree beneficiaries of the JBNQA said that the services gave them an easier process to meet their needs.

Lena Bates, has needs which fall under Section 16 of JBNQA, which gives access to education in the community and out-of-nation.

“It has given me the opportunity to gain independence,” said Bates, who studies Indigenous wellness and addiction prevention at Canadore College in North Bay.

She said that some services are lacking; her children have a hard time accessing support for their learning disabilities, but she hopes that being in North Bay will give them a chance to attend post-secondary institutions.

“They’re more hopeful towards the future than they were in the community,” she said.

She said that some Cree parents will move down south to get more resources outside of the Cree Nation, like access to programs for learning disabilities.

“Our school systems need improvement,” she said.

Bates notices a difference between a Cree person and those from other Aboriginal groups, where access to services are not the same.

“We sacrificed a lot of land for what we have today,” she said, “but unfortunately, that’s why we’re able to live comfortably and have all the services.”

Juliette Bearskin has used section 14 of JBNQA, which gives Cree access to health and social services in their community, and a benefit to travel south to see a specialist if a service is not available in the community.

“I’m actually in Montreal right now,” she said. “I’m with Cree Patient Services for my son’s dental appointment.”

She said that she’s not disappointed that some services are not offered in her community.

“We’re relatively new at running our own resources, we’re only 35 years in,” she said. “Services in Montreal have been running their resources for about 100 years.”

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Author: Nick Wapachee

A modern Cree who enjoys the city and the nature of things.

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