CNG responds to Moose Cree motion supporting Canada and Ontario in land claim

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The Moose Cree have filed a motion in Ontario Superior Court against the Cree Nation Government (CNG) land claim that seeks to have Canada and the province recognize Aboriginal rights and title for the Quebec Crees on a portion of the Harricana River inside Ontario. It’s the final piece of a 28-year-old Federal Court suit called the Matthew Coon Come Case.

The original suit was in response to the failure of Canada, Quebec and Ontario to properly implement the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). The first part of the case was settled financially in 2008 with Quebec. The second part of the case was settled when an agreement was signed with Canada that returned ownership of offshore islands to the Crees.

To settle the final portion of the case, it was re-filed several years ago in the Ontario Superior Court. But the response from other First Nations to the suit is surprising, says Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees.

“When we re-filed, all of a sudden it woke up all the bands in Ontario,” said Namagoose. “How come their lawyers weren’t told we had filed this case in 1989? It’s the same case.”

And while the claim wasn’t filed with other bands, or on their behalf, the solution it’s seeking isn’t one that attempts take anything away from another First Nation, says Namagoose.

“The federal government and the province have filed a defence in the claim stating that our Aboriginal rights and title were extinguished by Treaty 9. We disagree,” Namagoose told The Nation. “Now we understand that the Moose Cree are filing a motion that will support Canada and Ontario in the extinguishment of our Aboriginal rights and title.”

Essentially, the point of contention comes down to a line drawn in 1912 (seven years after Treaty 9 was signed) that separated Quebec and Ontario when the provinces expanded north. The line in question is arbitrary in terms of geography, geology and traditional land-use patterns. However, it does separate the Quebec Cree from the Ontario Cree, and by virtue the Cree who derive their rights from the JBNQA and those under Treaty 9.

Map outlining the territory included in the Grand Council's land claim

Map outlining the territory included in the Grand Council’s land claim

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come recalled a time when the Moose Cree people and the Crees of Eeyou Istchee lived on these lands as neighbours and friends.

“Unfortunately, Moose Cree now seeks to deny this history, in order to argue that the Cree Nation has no rights in Ontario,” Coon Come told The Nation. “The position being taken by Moose Cree First Nation in this case is regrettable, but this will not deter the Cree Nation in our fight to ensure that our rights in Ontario are properly recognized and protected.”

From the administrative level to the personal, treaties are a contentious topic in Indigenous circles. In British Columbia there’s an organization (the Union of BC Indian Chiefs) that advocates against signing treaties, and another (The First Nations Summit) that seeks to create modern treaties with BC and Canada.

“Treaty 9 extinguished the Ontario Crees’ Aboriginal rights and title in exchange for hunting, fishing and trapping rights (which are already protected under Aboriginal rights and title) and $4 a year. Why would you defend that treaty?” Namagoose asked. “If I were the Moose Cree, I would be standing with Quebec Cree, and using this as an opportunity to modernize their treaty.”

And of the numbered treaties, Treaty 9 stands on the most tenuous ground. In 2011, a Queen’s University historian discovered the journal of Daniel MacMartin, who was the treaty commissioner for Ontario in 1905 and oversaw the signing and negotiations of treaty 9. His detailed account of what was said in the negotiations versus what was signed in the treaty highlights what many critics of the numbered treaties have said all along.

Given that there was no official record kept of what was said in the treaty negotiations, there’s no way to know what First Nations believed they were signing. Given that it was illegal for an Indigenous person to study law or hire a lawyer in Canada until 1961, the level of inequity at the negotiating table becomes apparent.

“What made the JBNQA so successful is that it was drafted by lawyers. I think Indigenous people across Canada have to stop calling these numbered treaties sacred and call them what they are – land thefts,” said Namagoose. “A lot of Indigenous people say, ‘this is not their interpretation of the treaty,’ but that’s what the text says.”

The Nation made several requests for an interview with Moose Cree Chief Patricia Faries, but was told the Moose Cree had no comment at this time.

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