The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement
The JBNQA was signed on November 11, 1975 by the Government of Québec, the Government of Canada, Hydro-Québec, the Grand Council of the Crees of Québec and the Northern Québec Inuit Association. Described by many as the “first modern treaty”, the JBNQA created a new legal and, eventually, constitutional framework for, among other things, local self-governance, land management, protection of the traditional Cree way of life as well as for the relationship between Québec and the Indigenous peoples of the James Bay and Northern Québec region. It was the foundation on which Crees laid over 80 subsequent agreements, regarding self-governance of communities and territory.
The Paix des Braves
The Paix des Braves was signed on February 7, 2002, to recognize and affirm that development taking place on traditional lands required explicit consent and involvement of the Crees. They were no longer bystanders to the land’s potential, but the main actors with the capacity to provide opportunity to their people. The agreement not only established a new relationship between the Cree and Quebec, but it also opened the way to a true partnership in governance and development in Eeyou Istchee, fulfilling the Cree vision of bringing benefits home to families and communities.
La Grande Alliance
The concept of La Grande Alliance has been featured at many meetings of the Grand Council of the Crees, where it is now a standing agenda item in every meeting. The excerpts presented below show that the ideas behind the program have been discussed for several years. Note that the excerpts are summaries translated to English from Cree. Original recordings are available in the links.
Grand Council, December 11, 2018
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The Grand Chief met with newly elected Premier François Legault, where he mentioned that the Cree Nation would like to be considered able to contribute to the economy. They also discussed the lack of transportation infrastructure and the need for the Cree and Quebec to address infrastructure together and explore how the Cree can become owners of infrastructure with the possible assistance of the Federal Government to finance the initiative. A Chief stated that he liked the idea that the Cree own infrastructure. He believes that the Cree could take the lead in developing and owning the infrastructure associated with natural resource development instead of just being observers.
Grand Council, January 22, 2019
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The Grand Chief reports that he has the commitment of Premier Legault to assist in activating the Cree Development Corporation to get involved in or instigate major projects. He stated right now it is outside financiers who decide what happens in Eeyou Istchee and the Cree are treated as observers and this has to change. The Grand Chief explained that while the Cree Nation had no appetite for further hydro-electric development, that did not mean that the Cree Nation was against development generally.
Grand Council, March 26, 2019
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For the first time, a Cree Quebec Infrastructure Program is mentioned. It would be the next step after the “Paix des Braves” Agreement. The Grand Chief explained that the Cree understand better than anyone the potential and challenges of the territory yet are always put in a position to react to projects. Regarding mining transport, he stated that we can take two approaches, do nothing, stand on the side of the road and be covered in dust or we can have a say to make that development is coordinated, integrated and takes us into consideration. The Grand Chief explained it is time to consider that the Cree own or develop infrastructure like rail systems and that there are Federal funds specifically designated to assist First Nations play a leading role in infrastructure development.
Some Chiefs present at the meeting expressed agreement that the Cree Nation needed to behave like a Nation when managing or planning the development of our resources. Others expressed concern on the urgency of paving the roads before mining traffic starts, on the impact that rail transport would have on trucking jobs for Crees and on the need to assess development’s impact on traditional activity.
Grand Council, May 28, 2019
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It was reported that attempts are being made to have a holistic approach to development in Eeyou Istchee instead of development having in a piece meal way causing chaos and confusion in the territory. It was explained that it is very hard for communities to ensure they benefit or care for the land and wildlife when development seems so uncoordinated. The issue of mining development and how currently it feels like communities get information too late on what is happening on the territory and then we are stuck having to react has been raised. A Chief stated that it was important that people and governments know what the capacity is so that Crees can benefit from all forms of development not just mining through Impact-benefits Agreements.
Grand Council, July 30, 2019
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The Grand Chief explained that lithium mining development has a very high demand but no plan for extracting it responsibly, and could represent hundreds of trucks per day disrupting the territory. The Grand Chief explained that if transport is not addressed, existing roads will be destroyed if there is not a coordinated transportation plan. He also explained that transport infrastructure will trigger development and that we must make sure that we do not allow transportation infrastructure to interfere with our protected area plans. The specific situation of Whapmagoostui was addressed, and a Chief stated that long term sustainable transportation infrastructure is needed for Whapmagoostui and until this is addressed, issues like housing will always be a problem. Eastmain began with a winter road and we should consider a similar approach for Whapmagoostui.
Annual General Assembly, August 7, 2019
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The Grand Chief explains that attempts will be made to establish a Memorandum of Understanding with Quebec so that the Cree can play a leading role in infrastructure development. The Grand Chief delivered a presentation on infrastructure in Eeyou Istchee. The following issues were raised by Chiefs and other participants:
- The damage that will happen to the James Bay Highway should the transport issue not be addressed.
- The need to restore the damage from development before we allow more development and that we need to make sure that the option to go on to the land is always an option for Youth.
- The faith in the leadership that we do not allow more mining development than what the land and the people can handle.
- The irritation at the lack of efforts to use hydro-electric energy or that water was being released through spill ways considering how much the Cree Nation had sacrificed so much for the projects.
- The necessity to ensure that those wishing to pursue the traditional way of life receive the support that they need.
- The importance to look at how projects affect women especially in the plight of murdered and missing indigenous women.
- The concerns on tailings and waste management from mines which can be detrimental on water sources.
- The need that all development starts with land users because they are the ones that feel the impacts of development on the land first.
The Grand Chief stated that it is important that all these issues are discussed first by the Cree Nation explaining that it was about planning the future. He stated that infrastructure should serve and benefit Crees first. We should be putting ourselves ahead of developers and that we need to discuss and determine amongst ourselves what we feel is acceptable when it comes to development.
The Annual General Assembly adopted Resolution 2019-14: Infrastructure in Eeyou Istchee, which can be found here: (link)
Grand Council, November 20, 2019
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The team presented an update on discussions with Québec, including positive meetings with Ministers Charrette (MELCC) on Protected Areas, Bonnardel (Transports) on the central role that transportation infrastructure plays in the proposed Cree Quebec Infrastructure Program, and Julien (MERN) on the support required to advance discussions on the Program to bring focus and direction to natural resource development discussions.
The report on the Cree Quebec Infrastructure Program as also presented, and included the following elements:
- Transportation Infrastructure:
- Improvement of Regional Road Networks and Community Access Roads
- Deep Sea Port
- Commercialization of Communication Networks
- Cree acquisition of supporting infrastructure:
- Residential Facilities
- Air Transportation Facilities
- Strategic Alliances on Energy Distribution
- Strategic Alliance of Critical Metals transformation in Quebec
Potential New Content:
- Establishment of Complimentary Protected Areas with Measures for Monitoring and
- Improving access to traditional activity programs:
- Lifting cap on income security program and bringing administration of program under Cree Nation Government
- Transportation subsidies and programs
- Transportation Infrastructure:
Grand Council, December 12, 2019
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Grand Chief Dr. Abel Bosum explained the Government of Quebec is already developing a critical metals strategy and carrying out consultations accordingly. He explained in the past companies developed their projects as if we didn’t exist and we see it happening again where plans are being made to take from our territory without leaving anything behind. The Grand Chief explained that if we do not react then it will be someone else who decides what happens in Eeyou Istchee. He reminded everyone of the “Cree Vision of Plan Nord” which is the beginning of the Cree Nation demanding that we be involved in design infrastructure and shaping development. He stated that should the Premier agree we would pursue an MOU to make sure that funds are committed so that we can do the necessary studies. He explained that before there can be any project, studies need to be carried out first.
Grand Council, January 29, 2020
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Grand Chief Dr. Abel Bosum stated that at the last meeting with Premier Legault, it was explained that the Cree Nation has increased its capacity and is capable of playing a meaningful role in infrastructure development and that it is a natural next step in the Nation to Nation relationship if the Cree and Quebec work on the development of an infrastructure program together. The Grand Chief explained the mining potential and activity in Eeyou Istchee which is currently driven by outside investors or foreign authorities who would seem to have greater ability to determine what happens in our territory.
The Grand Chief explained that he met Premier Legault on December 20th to introduce the concept of developing a 30 year program for infrastructure which would help ensure our role in defining the future. It was explained that the Federal Government could be of assistance especially in financing through the Canadian Infrastructure Bank such as the case where the Crees of Manitoba were assisted in taking controlling and owning the rail from the Pas Manitoba to Churchill Manitoba. It is clear that the possibility exists and that it is up to us to explore, this is why we need studies. The message to the Premier is we would like to study the possibility of the Cree Nation designing and owning infrastructure. The result is that the Premier insisted on the development of an MOU so that the Cree and Quebec can study together the potential for the Cree Nation to develop and own infrastructure.
It was also explained that the MOU will not create roads or transportation infrastructure rather it is creating a forum with our communities and community members where we will study and define where infrastructure will go. One Chief mentioned that the MOU should not be seen as a concession but rather the implementation of Treaty and the Nation-to-Nation relationship that we were promised. Our relationship with Quebec needs to be defined by how we work together and the tools we have instead of referring other First Nations who are not in the situation we are in.
Chiefs and participants present raised a few issues, such as:
- Concerns that the road which is being improved will be ruined by development.
- Concerns that the MOU could interfere with discussions on Niibisshii park with Quebec for the community to manage the three parks in their area.
- Feeling that the plan is very bold and could result in a lot of employment and development for Eeyou Istchee but we have to be careful with our expectations because it will be any incredibly expensive endeavour.
- Many Chiefs expressed their approval. On motion duly made by Chief Davey Bobbish and seconded by Chief Marcel Happyjack, the Council adopted the Resolution for the MOU, which can be found here: (link).