Working towards a Cree constitution

Share Button

One of Canada’s most significant events took place on April 17, 1982, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II signed The Constitution Act, 1982, which finally gave Canada ultimate power over its own constitution. This was more or less an adaptation of the British North American (BNA) Act, giving the government of Canada the power to amend its own constitution and laws, and complete independence from the British powers – in other words, self-government.

Like this historical event, the Cree Nation is now one step closer in achieving its own version of self-governance with the introduction of a new draft governance agreement between the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the government of Canada.

The Grand Council of the Crees has begun community consultations to inform beneficiaries of the final draft of the new governance agreement and the Cree constitution. The consultations were scheduled for the New Year following the conclusion of negotiations between the Cree and the federal government in December 2016.

The consultation process began in Waswanipi January 10. The meeting, chaired by Waswanipi Chief Marcel Happyjack, was a two-hour presentation that started at 7 pm and was followed by a question period that went on past midnight.

According to Happyjack, the meeting went well and many of the concerns of the community were heard and addressed. Happyjack said he did not sense a lot of opposition to the agreement from the community members, but rather they had questions about the process of approval and what is required from the communities.

The information sessions were arranged because, as part of the approval process, each band council must sign off on the new agreement and pass their approval by resolution. Before the Canadian Parliament can approve the agreement, each of the Cree Nation governments must first give their own assent.


The purpose of the new agreement is to give local and regional Cree government more authority on category 1A lands, which is seen as a further step towards self-governance. What this means for Cree people is that our band councils and the Cree Nation Government (CNG) will now have legislative power over these lands and it will give them the authority to make laws over these lands, not just bylaws.

One of the concerns brought up by members of Waswanipi was whether the local bands will be surrendering more powers to the CNG. Happyjack explained that this would not be the case and he felt that this agreement, from what he heard, would in fact give more power locally to the Cree people.

“It’s less red tape,” said Happyjack. “[The agreement] gives us more self-autonomy within the Cree Nation.”

Like the government of Canada adapting its own constitution, rather than being bound under the BNA Act, this new agreement will give the Cree Nation more freedom to govern without being bound by the Cree-Naskapi Act. It currently only allows the Cree to enact bylaws that are then subject to approval by Canada. Now, the CNG and the local bands will have the power to enact their own laws without the need for approval from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

The processes for enacting Cree laws are set out and explained in the constitution, as are other issues such as elections, financial accountability and spending.

Happyjack said he is planning to hold internal consultations in his community to further inform the people of Waswanipi about the agreement.

Happyjack is also preparing an assessment of the agreement with legal counsel, which is to be completed by the end of January in order to confirm their position.

“We’re not saying that we’re against it, but we still have a lot of questions,” Happyjack said.
Consultations will take place in all the Cree communities and will be continue until March. A public meeting with the Cree Nation of Washaw Sibi was held January 12 and the next one will be in Nemaska January 30. Information on community consultations and dates will be available soon the Grand Council website.

Share Button

Comments are closed.