Constitutional closure

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The Cree Governance and Constitution package finally received approval from the Waskaganish Band Council on May 24, almost two months after every other Cree community had assented to the groundbreaking agreement.

It was almost too late to receive federal government cabinet approval, the deadline for which was May 22. Nonetheless, indications are that the Trudeau government will proceed with final approval to put ultimate power over Cree governance in the hands of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.

The reasons and manoeuvres behind this critical delay are, at times, mystifying. The first reason given was to the effect that there wasn’t enough time to consult all members of the Cree Nation.

Yet, we have all known for years that this was coming. It was back in 2008 that the Cree signed a New Relationship Agreement with Canada. Part of that Agreement was a commitment to negotiate a Cree Governance Agreement and to devise a Cree Constitution for the Cree to adopt. Since that time the Council Board received 11 reports.

Then, in September 2016, Council Board chiefs and members received a preliminary draft text of a Cree Governance Agreement. At this time, they agreed that the Cree Constitution would essentially be a cut-and-paste of the Cree-Naskapi Act as a transition measure.

In November 2016, all Cree chiefs and councillors met to review the draft agreement. The chiefs asked for a period lasting until March 2017 in order to consult their community members. The consultations began January 10 in Waswanipi and ended March 8 in Oujé-Bougoumou. The Waskaganish meeting was held January 31.

Another line of attack claims that Cree women were not consulted on the Agreement. And yet, every community held public meetings at which all members were invited to attend, regardless of gender. At all Council Board meetings, the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association has had observer status since 2013. Former CWEIA president Virginia Wabano said attaining observer status had allowed the CWEIA to “move forward to building a relationship with leadership to address issues affecting women.”

A third complaint, made at the recent council board meeting in Oujé-Bougoumou, said that the CWEIA had almost no funding or support from the Grand Council, and as a result, couldn’t even participate in the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. However, previously the CNG had offered resources to ensure CWEIA participation in the Inquiry.

It is true that this is an election year and the truth can become muddled. Yet, every Cree must have access to the truth in order to make decisions that will affect the future of the Cree Nation as a whole. I always hope those who spoke will have the best interests of the people as their guide. The goal should always be to improve the lives of our people regardless of personal desires and aspirations.

My late grandmother, Mary Ann MacLeod, used to say that a conflict had to involve at least two sides, both of which were usually partly right and partly wrong. This is no doubt true. Perhaps some criticisms of the consultation were made without full knowledge of the issue or situation. However, we have a duty to correct the record. The consequences of undermining the legitimacy of the way we govern ourselves are too great.

Former Grand Chief Matthew Mukash recently posted on his Facebook page some wisdom that now comes to mind.

“There are days that I choose not to speak or think of others in a negative way,” he wrote. “It was hard at first but now it’s different. My Elder often said, ‘The past is the past; each moment is an opportunity to take a step forward. Do it and you’ll find peace in your heart.’”

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