Canada adopts Cree Governance Act

Share Button

Almost a decade of preparing for Cree autonomy finally paid off for the Grand Council of the Cree on June 16, when the Liberal government cabinet approved the Cree Governance Act.

The only problem was they couldn’t tell anyone about it. The approval was under embargo from the public until the federal cabinet had informed the Quebec government.

“If you release the information without their permission, sometimes they’ll deny that there was ever an agreement in place,” explained Executive Director Bill Namagoose.

When Quebec was notified on June 29 and moved to abstain, the Grand Council finally issued a press release confirming the milestone in Cree history. The agreement will be signed soon and follows both consultations and approvals in each Cree community.

“On February 21, 2008, we signed the New Relationship Agreement between Canada and the Cree,” Namagoose recounted. “It was contemplated that we would have a governance agreement but it took nine years to complete the negotiations.

“We were at an impasse because the federal government wanted to impose their Aboriginal self-government policy, which we couldn’t accept,” Namagoose explained. “It was not a constitutional policy, it was a policy at the discretion of the federal government. Every year when they pass a budget in February they change all kinds of policies, which could include the Aboriginal self-government policy.”

Namagoose emphasized the importance of the fact that the new agreement is tied to the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).

“We wanted our governance agreement to flow through a treaty,” he said. “That was the impasse. We managed to get Canada to agree that this Cree governance agreement flow through the JBNQA, which is a constitutional document.”

The Cree Naskapi Act, signed in 1984, will act as Eeyou Istchee’s temporary constitution as a consultation process begins over the ultimate form of a Cree constitution.

“With the governance agreement, there had to be a constitution that accompanied it,” said Namagoose. “Since the constitution will be a long process, the Cree leadership agreed that the Cree Naskapi Act, a federal act, will be the interim constitution. Eventually a Cree constitution will replace it.”

The process of creating a Cree constitution has already begun, with a Cree Constitution working group coordinated by Willie Mianscum and rounded out by Matthew Mukash, Ted Moses, Abel Bosum and Namagoose. He says work will pick up on the process after the elections.

“The issue is determining the Cree view of what a constitution should be,” Namagoose said. “Canada and the United States view their constitutions as the founding document of a nation. We don’t need a piece of paper to establish the Cree Nation like Canada and the States do, because we’re not located on stolen land.”

But Namagoose said a constitution is important in a contemporary context in order to have a strong government and strong governance.

“Our relationship with Canada and Quebec is already defined but the agreement gives us more autonomy, more financial security and we’ll be able to adopt laws,” he explained. “The Cree Constitution will be a purely Cree document, the federal government will have no say whatsoever. It’s going to be a manual for how Crees want the Cree Nation to be governed.”

Despite, in some quarters, criticism of the consultation process for the Governance Agreement, Namagoose believes it was well-handled and provides a path for feedback on the final constitutional proposal.

“We certainly had a robust community consultation and feedback,” he said. “There was a lot of community engagement and that’s what we wanted. It’s always good to hear people’s concerns. We learned a lot of lessons from the consultations and we really appreciate all the people’s comments and input.”

Namagoose thanked everyone involved in making Cree self-governance a reality.

“It’s going to be a historic day for the Cree,” he concluded. “Greater autonomy, our own constitution. And we’re strengthening the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, a treaty and a constitutional document that defines our relationship with Canada and Quebec.”


Share Button

Comments are closed.