BY KEVIN DOUGHERTY, GAZETTE QUEBEC BUREAU CHIEF
QUEBEC — “The days of exclusion are over,” Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said Thursday, heralding a new era in co-operation between his people and the non-aboriginals of northern Quebec.
Coon Come said the unanimous adoption of Bill 42 Thursday by the Quebec National Assembly, creating a new “Cree Nation Government,” with a greater say in developing lands now reserved for Cree hunting, fishing and trapping, and a new “Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government,” truly is historic.
“The word historic is sometimes overused,” Coon Come added. “But not today.
“For with the adoption of Bill 42, a formal partnership in governance is being born between an aboriginal people and a non-aboriginal people.”
Gaétan Lelièvre, who as Quebec’s minister of regions, piloted the bill — his first as a minister — through the assembly, explained the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government, coming into existence Jan. 1, 2014, will be composed of 11 Cree representatives and 11 elected officials from non-aboriginal settlements.
“For the first time in the history of North America, we will succeed in putting in place a regional government of those who occupy this territory, the James Bay (non-native) community, but equally composed of an aboriginal nation, the Cree nation,” Lelièvre said.
Manon Cyr, mayor of Chibougamau, the largest non-native town in the region, said it is essential that the two communities work together.
“We cannot avoid being at the same table with those who control 75 per cent of the territory,” Cyr said. “That makes no sense.”
On the issue of developing uranium mines in the region, the Crees and “Jamesians,” as the non-aboriginals call themselves, have divergent views, with the Crees overwhelmingly opposed and the Jamesians, whose livelihood is more-closely linked to mining, split.
“If we had been sitting at the same table, we could have addressed this issue together,” Cyr said. “We have plenty of files of common interest.”
The Quebec government has imposed a moratorium on uranium development, pending an environmental assessment of whether the radioactive mineral should be mined at all in the province.
The genesis of Bill 42, explained Geoffrey Kelley, at the time aboriginal affairs minister in the Liberal government of Jean Charest, was a sense of exclusion among the Cree, who were shut out by the province in its dealings with the James Bay Municipality government.
Coon Come would tell Charest “think outside the box,” Kelley said, and that led to a new agreement on Cree governance signed last July 24, just before the election that brought the Parti Québécois to power.
Pauline Marois, the new PQ premier, agreed to implement the agreement Charest signed.
Coon Come said this is the next step in the Cree-Quebec relationship, expressing “profound satisfaction.”
“We now are going down a path of working together, and it’ll be a challenge,” he said. “I am not afraid. I trust in my leadership, I trust in my people that we will do everything we can to be able to work together, to make this agreement work, so that we will no longer, in the North, be seen as ‘us’ and ‘them.’
“We are working together to build a future for the people of the North, and I think that’ll be good for Quebecers.”