Constitution stalled as Waskaganish Chief wants more time to study proposal

Share Button

Every Cree community band council but one – Waskaganish – has now passed a resolution supporting the proposed Cree constitution and governance agreement. Despite a community assembly and band council meeting called to address the issue April 13, the band council was unable to vote on a resolution to approve the constitution.

Resolutions from all Cree communities are required by May 22 to allow the constitution and governance package to go to the federal government for final approval.

Waskaganish Chief Darlene Cheechoo called the April 13 meeting with only 12 hours notice to the Cree Nation Government (CNG), which has been on hand at every other community meeting that has approved the agreement – including MoCreebec and Washaw Sibi – to answer questions and provide information.

However, after adjourning the meeting for supper with a reconvene time of 7 pm, Chief Cheechoo did not return for the evening session. Waskaganish Deputy Chief Thomas Hester reopened the meeting at 9 pm, after which more than 60 community members voted to support the governance and constitution proposals.

Nonetheless, Cheechoo is refusing to recognize the vote, saying the meeting that she convened and chaired was illegal. According to Nation sources, she also rejected a subsequent band council meeting to deal with this subject.

Cheechoo has stated that she feels the Waskaganish people need more time to examine the proposals. She has indicated this could possibly be done by the end of May – which would put the final implementation of the constitution and governance agreement in jeopardy.

Cheechoo did not respond to the Nation’s requests for an interview.

“I know that the governance agreement and Cree constitution are a big step, so it is natural that some may feel some anxiety,” Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come told the Nation. “I respect that. I want to reassure all the chiefs, elected band councillors and all the Cree citizens of Eeyou Istchee that I will continue the dialogue that we have started on Cree governance. We will face the challenges together, just as we have faced together all the other challenges over the past 40 years and more since the JBNQA. And together, we will overcome the challenges, and take the Cree Nation to the next stage as a fully mature self-governing people.”

The road to a Cree constitution and Cree self-governance has been a long one. It was back in 2008 when the Cree signed a new relationship agreement with the federal government that set out a path to self-governance. Eight years later, on April 19, the Cree Nation Government (CNG) passed a resolution agreeing to a Cree constitution and governance that will affect only Category 1A lands.

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, Chisasibi Chief Davey Bobbish, Deputy Chief Daisy House Lameboy and Deput Grand Chief Rodney MarkJohn Sam, William Bobbish, Rev. Jacob Sealhunter and Willard Napash at the Chisasibi consultation

“It has been a long haul,” said Coon Come. “Discussions started in 2009-2010, but quickly reached an impasse over federal policy vs. Cree JBNQA treaty rights. It was only when Canada accepted to respect Cree treaty rights that real discussions could begin, early in 2015.”

Coon Come said the Cree would see greater autonomy, flexibility and financial security as a result. Indeed part of the new relationship agreement held back $200 million until Cree governance was a reality.

“The specific allocation of these funds will be determined by the Council of the Cree Nation Government in consultation with the Cree First Nations, based on agreed priorities and needs,” said Coon Come. “The major benefit for the Cree Nation Government is the bullet we dodged: We were able to win respect for Cree treaty rights under the JBNQA, and we avoided tying ourselves to the whims of federal policy.”

In public consultation meetings people from every Cree community supported the Cree constitution and governance agreement, though these community resolutions are not binding on band councils.

“It is very satisfying and humbling at same time,” Coon Come said. “As I have said before, we have to trust the wisdom of the Cree people. If you explain even a complex matter like Cree Nation Governance to the people, you can be sure that they will make the right decision.”

Share Button

Comments are closed.