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The Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee - The Journey to Self-Governance

Collective member Jean Koning has given us permission to share her blog post, which first appeared on her blog Koning's Komments on August 29th, 2017.

The jubilant sense of accomplishment among the people of the IIyuusche Cree Nation of northern Quebec is shared by many of us who have followed this struggle for self-determination for the past 40 years. (see "'Reconciliation in action': Quebec Cree leaders sign governance, funding agreement with Ottawa"). This media story caught my eye for another reason as well. I happened to be a delegate to the Anglican Church's Algoma Diocesan Synod of 1973 when then Bishop James Watton, of Moosonee Diocese, one of the special guests, spoke to us about the "James Bay Project" as part of the work of the Church in the North. His notes, found in the Algoma Synod Journal, point out that in that diocese, 98% of "Swampy Cree Indians are Anglican; 80% of these people live in the Province of Quebec." Watton said the "James Bay Development Company was set up as a Crown company by the Province of Quebec" and eventually Quebec Hydro took over management of the Project. "Four dams will be built and they are on their second one now". But there was an "ecological argument", he said. "The Peoples in the area were never consulted about their feelings toward the project." A temporary injunction resulted in the province challenging "the Indian people to prove their lineage to before Confederation". Bishop Watton's notes continue: Actually, the land was given to the Crown by the Hudson Bay Company to be part of the new Dominion of Canada at Confederation, 1867. The year 1870 is the key. The reason the Province challenged the Indian People to trace their lineage was because the Indian Affairs records went back only to 1934 and the Roman Catholic Church had no record of them. Quebec didn't realize the Indians were Anglicans. An urgent call was received from one of the chief men of the Indian settlers telling of this situation. As a result, clergy and records took off by plane for Quebec City along with myself. The Indians could trace their lineage. Over 3,000 Indians were traced back before 1870. As a result, a court case is pending. Watton also speaks of the impending Quebec election, and Premier Robert Bourassa's involvement, including a book in which Bourassa wrote: "... I have always believed that to develop these resources (hydro power) would require conquering and taming the North". My thanks to Algoma's archivist, Krista McCracken for these notes from Bishop Watton, but I have not found any further comments from the Anglican Church on this situation. However, I did discover Roy MacGregor's book: "Chief: The Fearless Vision of Billy Diamond", which fills in this 40-year span from the Northern Quebec Cree Nation's point of view, although there is no mention of Bishop Watton's account of the Anglican Church connection. Perhaps, some time in the future, that information will come to light. Meanwhile, I heartily recommend reading MacGregor's book, which recounts the life of Chief Billy Diamond, who paved the way to the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Settlement Agreement, from which Chief Matthew Cooncome was able to lead his people onward to the current signing of the self-governance agreement in 2017. It seems to me, as a long-time observer of (and participant in) the relationship between the First Peoples of Turtle Island and The Rest of Us, that this history of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee holds a significant place in the renaissance of the First Peoples. It is not my place, however, to tell First Peoples what to do. My people have been trying to do that for hundreds of years, and we have been wrong most of the time. The First Peoples are entirely capable of figuring this out for themselves. But I think it is important that we "newcomer/settler/immigrant people" read, learn, study and inwardly digest the knowledge contained in these aforementioned sources so that we can find our proper place within this new relationship with the First Peoples, of respect, justice, peace and friendship we so badly need, if Canada is to become the nation we claim to be. #end

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