Decision Time: Consultation sessions end on proposed Cree constitution

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Okay Cree Nation, the ball is now in your court. With the community consultations wrapping up, the responsibility is with the members of each Cree community to decide whether to endorse the proposed Cree constitution.

For the past three months the Cree Nation Government (CNG) has been going from community to community in an effort to inform the public about the proposed governance agreement and constitution.

The consultations are a requirement of the approval process. For the constitution to be ratified, it must first be accepted and approved by all the Cree communities by way of a band resolution.

In addition to all Cree communities on the Quebec side – a resolution from MoCreebec is not a requirement of the approval process – representatives of the CNG have also met with entities, such as the Board of Compensation, the Cree School Board and the Cree Health Board, and Cree post-secondary students in Montreal and Ottawa to answer questions and address concerns.

According to Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council, the draft constitution and agreement were for the most part well received by the Cree population. Of the over 1000 people who they consulted, Namagoose said there was no real opposition to the agreement – just a lot of tough questions.

Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark also had the impression that the public is in favour of the proposed governance agreement, but he did notice some anxiety.

Those who attended the consultations “were apprehensive in that they had to think about it,” he said.

The Deputy Grand Chief then went on to explain that this is a natural reaction for people because in a lot of cases the public may not be as informed on such matters as the chiefs and community councils members might be.

Namagoose agreed, adding that those in the negotiating process are more informed on the issues because they “live it every day.” He also stressed the importance of having a better-informed public.

“If you feed the people the proper information they will always make the right decision in the end,” he said.

Elder Harry Scipio speaking at the Chisasibi consultation

Elder Harry Scipio speaking at the Chisasibi consultation

Chisasibi Chief Davey Bobbish thought that those who attended the Chisasibi consultation February 7 were largely in favour of adopting the new agreement. But he also noted that some people did have concerns.

Bobbish said that the main topic of discussion was taxation. Many of those commenting were afraid that, with the new governance agreement, the Cree people would now be taxed.

Many of those fears diminished when it was explained to them that taxation will probably never happen and a lot of people at the consultation were surprised to learn that the Cree communities have had the power of taxation since the Cree-Naskapi Act was implemented in 1984.

Bobbish pointed out that if it were ever to come to this, the decision to tax would come from the leaders through consultation with the people.

“For any one leader to decide (to tax), that would never happen,” he said. “We have the ability to tax but it’s never going to be applied.”

This was also a notion shared by Namagoose. “There was no obligation in the agreement to use (the power of taxation) and there will be no consequences to Cree funding if the CNG doesn’t exercise that taxation power,” he said.

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

Another concern is how the new agreement would affect services that are currently in place. Namagoose says that the new agreement would only change the way local governments are managed.

“(The Cree people) will continue to receive all the normal programs that Canadian citizens are entitled to,” Namagoose said. “The only difference will be that the Minister of Northern Affairs will no longer be in the picture in terms of Cree governance, and the financial accountability will now be to the Cree people, rather than to the government of Canada.”

Namagoose also noted that there would be no change to the Cree services such as the school board, the health board and the Eeyou Eenou Police Force.

Other people worried whether the constitution would hand over legislative power to the CNG at the expense of local band councils.

Namagoose denied this would happen. He stressed that communities should be working with the CNG and not view it as a hindrance. “Our unity has been our greatest strength, we propelled our nation to greater heights because of unity,” Namagoose said.

This was a view also held by the Deputy Grand Chief.

“The people who sit on the CNG are the chiefs,” Mark said. “The Grand Chief doesn’t have unilateral decision-making power. Having a Cree Nation Government that is strong is a good thing in terms of dealing with industries such as mining, forestry, hydro and tourism.”

In all, most of those consulted were optimistic about the new governance agreement and envisioned good things for the future of the Cree nation.

Mark was also excited about the possibilities of self-governance and called it a great opportunity for community planning. “It’s unprecedented that we can sit down and really plan for the next 10 to 15 years. In terms of land-use planning, in terms of community planning, in terms of economic development planning, this is huge!”

Support for the new self-governance model has already began. In a community meeting March 16, the people of Wemindji passed a community resolution backing the proposed constitution. Although a band resolution is all that is required, Wemindji members took the process one step further.

Chief Bobbish applauds the initiative and says he is planning to table a recommendation at the next council meeting in Chisasibi to put forward a resolution adopting the proposed agreement.

Once all the Cree communities agree to the new agreement, it must go to the federal government cabinet for final approval. Mark estimates that that process could take up to two years. In the meantime, he added, communities should begin preparing their respective planning processes.

While the date has not yet been determined, the final community consultation will be held in Moose Factory with the MoCreebec Eeyoud.

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