Monday, July 16, 2007

Big news

From the Montreal Gazette:

Land claims agreement worth $1.4 billion
Jeff Heinrich, CanWest News Service

MONTREAL - First they made peace with Quebec, now they're making it with Ottawa - and becoming masters in their own house. Dropping lawsuits totalling $4.5 billion, leaders of the 16,500 Cree of northern Quebec announced a historic $1.4-billion deal with Ottawa on Monday.

If ratified in a referendum in October and approved by Parliament, it will see them take control of all policing, courts and social and economic development in their communities - and perhaps eventually form their own state within Canada.

It's the first time the Cree have reached a significant financial agreement with the federal government since 1983.

t ends three years of intense negotiations aimed at resolving differences over the landmark 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which compensated the Cree for lands flooded by Hydro-Quebec's mammoth James Bay hydroelectric projects.

A little over five years ago, the Cree signed a similar deal with the Quebec government. Under the so-called Paix des Braves, the Cree got $4.5 billion to settle decades of lawsuits against the province that, like the Ottawa ones, stemmed from the 1975 James Bay treaty.

At a packed news conference Monday, current and former Cree leaders and negotiators joined federal officials, negotiators and politicians to announce what they described as a 50-year deal, covering the 30 years since the original James Bay accord was signed and 20 more years after the new deal is eventually ratified.

"We've come a very long way since 1975," said Matthew Mukash, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.


Under the agreement, the Crees will take over programs now under Ottawa's jurisdiction: the administration of justice, including rehab centres, workhouses and refuges for women; training and manpower; construction of community centres, sewage systems and firefighting services; and economic development programs.

A second stage of negotiation would then begin on Cree self-government, including eventual status as a fully fledged Cree state within Canada.

This is one of the biggest and longest-standing indigenous rights disputes in the world. The Cree are the largest First Nations group in Canada. I'm not sure why the article uses the language of a "Cree state;" I presume that what's envisioned is an autonomous territory like Nunavut, or conceivably (though this is unlikely) a province. "State" is a word without constitutional meaning in the Canadian federation.

I can't find any online discussion of what territory the "state" might occupy; the question of Cree territory in Quebec, and whether the Cree could be forced to accompany a seceding Quebec out of Canada, is a critical one in Quebec secession debates. Carving a self-determining territory even partly out of Quebec's current landmass would be politically explosive; but it would be very strange for a settlement of the James Bay case to lead to the creation of a territory that didn't include the huge, overwhelmingly Cree, Quebec side of the James Bay watershed.