The Status and Rights of the James
in the Context of Quebec Secession from Canada
Speaking Notes for Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come
Centre for Strategic and International Studies Washington, September
Wachiya! Thank you for the invitation to speak here today, and for
your warm welcome.
A week ago today, a secessionist government, the Parti Québécois
was elected to rule in the Province of Quebec. Another secessionist
party, the Bloc Québécois already sits in the Canadian
Federal Parliament as the Official Opposition. The leader of the
Bloc Québécois, Mr. Lucien Bouchard, spoke here in
this Centre last March.
It is no secret that the elected government in Quebec now intends
to make every effort to take Quebec out of Canada. The issue of
Quebec’s secession from Canada has moved from the hypothetical
to the distinctly possible.
I believe that America’s interests will be challenged by
the events now taking place in the Province of Quebec. I believe
that Americans in particular, with their persistent and heartfelt
sense of justice and fairness, and their concern for fundamental
human rights cannot turn their backs on threatened abuses or injustice.
I am here because something wrong could soon take place in my country.
I am here because the Aboriginal peoples, who have been the historical
victims on this continent for five hundred years, are in danger
once again of being dispossessed and shoved aside. This time it
is proposed that we simply be handed from our country to a foreign
country against our will and without our consent.
I want to make sure that I am fully understood today, so I will
offer my apologies for those who already know our history, because
I will first give you some background.
I am a Cree Indian—an elected leader of my people. The Crees
have lived, since the end of the last Ice Age, in the territory
surrounding James Bay, at the southern end of Hudson’s Bay.
The Inuit people live to the North of us, and together we occupy
a territory about twice the size of California. We are indigenous,
that is, Aboriginal peoples, and to this day are the only peoples
to live permanently in this territory.
Long before there was a Canada or a United States, our territory
was given its name — Eenou Astchee – the people’s
land. We Crees number about 12,000. We continue to hunt, fish, and
trap as a major economic pursuit; and we live in nine different
communities that are spread out over hundreds of miles. It is a
beautiful and for the most part, pristine land that has only come
under development pressure during the past twenty years.
We have always been the majority inhabitants of our territory,
which we have never left. We have never been involved in an armed
conflict or uprising with Canada or any colonial power. We have
never, until recently, faced any political threat to our territory
or our existence as a people. We have our own language, culture,
history, legal system, social structure, traditions, and beliefs.
We have always conceived of ourselves as one people, tied together
by the land we share and care for, and upon which our survival has
We Crees are not “nationalists”. That concept does
not exist in the Cree language. Our tie to the land is not just
political, it is also physical. We are part of our lands.
Our connection to the land is, to this day, barely understood by
others. Few who have claimed over the centuries to own and govern
our lands have even been there. On the 2nd of May 1670, King Charles
II of England “granted” the entire Hudson Bay drainage
system to the “Company of Gentleman Adventurers Trading into
Hudson’s Bay”, also known as the Hudson’s Bay
Company, He named this vast area of land “Rupert’s Land”
in honor of his cousin Prince Rupert. This grant lasted until 1870,
when “Rupert’s Land” was annexed to Canada by
Queen Victoria at Windsor. The colony of Canada at that time was
just three years old.
Thirty or so years later in 1898 and 1912, ‘Rupert’s
Land” was broken up and given to the Canadian provinces of
Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.
Thus it was not until 1912 that the largest pad of Eenou Astchee,
the Cree Territory, somehow became part of the Province of Quebec.
The Cree Territory was never part of the historical entity known
as Quebec. In colonial terms, it was a territory under exclusive
Canadian federal jurisdiction until 1912.
During all of these years of Royal and colonial gifts, transfers,
and jurisdictional changes, we Crees were never consulted, or even
informed, This was all done without our consent, and without our
knowledge. Based on the racist beliefs and practices of those days,
we were described in colonial documents as wild creatures and squatters.
However, certain conditions on the settlement of Native rights
and interests were attached to the 1912 Act of Parliament that granted
our lands to Quebec. But nothing was done and still no–one spoke
to us, for a further 60 years. Then in 1971, again without so much
as notifying the Crees, Quebec and its provincially owned electric
utility Hydro–Quebec, started construction of the massive James
Bay Hydro–electric Project, that would flood and destroy several
sensitive regions in the Cree Territory.
We went to court, and won a landmark case on our rights. But Quebec’s
highest court summarily overturned our plea for relief, which we
based on the requirements of the 1912 Act transferring a portion
of Rupert’s Land to the Province of Quebec. Quebec argued
that we Crees had the legal status of “squatters”, living
on, but not in possession of our traditional land. Unabashed, the
Court ruled that our rights to our lands had been extinguished by
King Charles II’s distant gift to Prince Rupert, way back
in the 1600’s!
Ironically, the Supreme Court of Canada stated in 1990 that the
James Bay Hydroelectric Project was (and I quote):
“initiated without regard to the rights of the Indians who
lived there, even though these were expressly protected by a constitutional
But this statement came too late for the Crees. We had already
entered into the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement back in
1975. This Agreement, which was entered into under conditions of
duress and real oppression, is now purported to have “remedied”
the previous 400 years of colonial manipulations.
Such as it is, the Agreement is a treaty that was negotiated within
a federalist context, between the Crees, the Government of Canada
and the Government of Quebec as a Canadian province. This is critical
in the current context. This treaty establishes and confirms rights
and obligations emanating from two levels of government, with intentional
and inherent checks and balances which were fundamental to us. In
particular, it is specifically recognized that the Parliament and
the Government of Canada have a “special responsibility”
to the Crees. The rights we have in this treaty with the governments
of Canada and Quebec are specifically enshrined within the Canadian
In confirming this Agreement by law in 1977, the Parliament of
Canada simultaneously enshrined permanent Cree rights as citizens
of Canada and residents in the Province of Quebec, as well as the
other rights contained in the treaty. These terms and conditions
may only be amended with the consent of the original signatories.
Our relationship in perpetuity with the federal Crown and Parliament
are, in law at least, not subject to unilateral abrogation or transfer.
I will complete this short history by jumping back to the 18th
century, recalling that France surrendered its part of what later
became the Province of Quebec in 1763, in the Treaty of Paris. That
surrender and extinguishment followed the conquest of the French
by the British on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 1759.
Importantly, the borders of the Province of Quebec were intentionally
drawn in 1763 to exclude the lands of the Hudson’s Bay Company,
which included the Cree Territory far to the North.
Throughout this time, the Crees’ way of life went largely
unchanged, because there was little or no contact with government
authorities: and although our rights were purportedly affected,
we remained unaware of all of these jurisdictional implications.
Our elders tell us the stories about the French soldiers coming
down the frozen rivers to attack the Hudson’s Bay Posts in
James Bay, but the Hudson’s Bay Company remained, and English
became the second language of the Crees.
It was not until 1963 that the Province of Quebec sent the first
government officials into the Cree Territory, but no services were
provided then by Quebec and little happened until the James Bay
Project in 1973. Last year the Government of Quebec held formal
ceremonies commemorating its presence, “Thirty Years in Northern
In his study on secession, American scholar Allan Buchanan questions
the legitimacy of secession in contexts where the secessionist group
acquired all or some of its territory through unjust or nefarious
means. Buchanan states, and I quote,
“This may be an accurate description of the situation in
Quebec... For one thing, the French acquired at least some of the
territory in unjust ways from the various Indian tribes (some now
extinct, some virtually so, and others readily identifiable) who
originally occupied the land. For another, some portions of present–day
Quebec were ceded to the province by the English after unification.”
Even Quebec government officials do not really know Cree history.
I remember that the Crees were rebuked in 1977 by Quebec officials
for not speaking and using the French Language. A law passed at
that time prohibiting the public use of languages other than French
in Quebec, was imposed in the Cree and Inuit Territory. After strong
protests and demonstrations of civil disobedience by the Crees and
Inuit, the French Language Law was imposed in the rest of Quebec
outside of our Territory, but the Crees and Inuit won an exception
substantiated upon our treaty rights.
It is because our rights as Aboriginal peoples of Canada could
forever and irrevocably be altered and diminished in this conflict,
that I must speak to you. I wish to emphasize that I am not here
today to express our fears about whether our human rights will be
respected in an independent Quebec. We are promised daily by the
secessionists that we will be well–treated. But the Crees are not
seeking such assurances concerning their rights in some future independent
Quebec—that is not the point at this time.
No, I am here because the process of secession itself, as proposed
by the government of Quebec, involves imminent denials of fundamental
The Parti Québécois, now the Government of Quebec,
proclaims the Québécois—that is, anyone who
may presently reside in the province—a people. The Parti Québécois
then claims for that Quebec people the fundamental right of self–determination,
while in the same breath denying the Crees and other Aboriginal
peoples this self–same right.
The Parti–Québécois, now the Government of Quebec,
states that we have no rights in our land, that these have all been
extinguished through centuries of colonial acts. It always fails
to mention, however, the extinguishments and surrenders of the territorial
rights of Quebecers at the Treaty of Paris and again when Quebec
joined Canada in 1867.
The leader of the Parti–Québécois, now the Premier
of Quebec, has stated that the Cree people has no valid claim on
its territory because, he says, our rights were all extinguished
when the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement came into force
in 1977. He neglects to mention the many federalist aspects of the
Agreement that bind his Province and the federal government to the
All these statements constitute a profound double standard, a discrimination
we can only conclude is based on race, in breach of all international
standards. An observer of this situation noted recently in the Cornell
Journal of International Law:
“A self–respecting international law cannot apply as lofty
a principle as self–determination in a racially discriminatory manner:
‘yes’ for whites in Quebec, ‘no’ for indigenous
peoples throughout Canada.
All of these assertions of the Parti Québécois, now
the government of Quebec, involve breaches of domestic and international
law and of our human rights.
Fundamentally, there is no right for a portion of a State to secede,
either in international or in Canadian Constitutional law. To accomplish
its stated goal, the Government of Quebec will either have to persuade
the Canadian State to amend its Constitution to dismember itself,
or Quebec will have to secede unilaterally. In either case, we intend
to ensure that the constitutional and human rights of the Aboriginal
peoples are not violated.
There are many injustices in the Americas that bring all of us
to this point in history—wars waged, battles lost, the powerful
against the weak, the caprice of monarchs, the treachery of tyrants.
None of this is fair, but here we are, anyway—those of us
who have survived. The Aboriginal peoples of the Americas have without
doubt been the most tragic victims of European migration to the
Yes, we fight against injustice, we file land claims in the courts,
we demonstrate to defend our rights, we seek the further recognition
of our status and rights in international forums. But this does
not constitute an effort to turn back the clock on history itself,
and to demand total independence and absolute sovereignty over our
peoples and their territory. Much as same of us might like to, we
recognize that the best we can do is defend and enhance the rights
that belong to us as peoples and nations.
As a result, we live in relatively stable societies, governed by
known laws and procedures (though mostly not of our own making),
which although frustrating and often unfair or unjust, are evolving
to provide some means for us to pursue the interests of our people.
Over time we will redress the wrongs we have suffered, within the
framework of law and international human rights standards. We spend
a great deal of time and money in the law courts and even at the
United Nations. But, and I say this again, we have not tried to
In Quebec, something else is happening. In Quebec, a group representing
less than half of the population of the province, wants to “correct’
history. Automobile license plates in Quebec carry the motto: ~Je
me souviens”, which means “I remember’. What is
it that I, as a Cree Indian, am supposed to remember?
Quebec was never independent. It was a French colony, surrendered
by France in war—a strip of land along the upper St. Lawrence
River where two European powers fought for control of Aboriginal
land. From an Aboriginal point of view, both the French and the
English are recent arrivals. Whatever upsetting defeat may have
occurred on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, it does not begin to
compare with the dispossession and oppression that has been practiced
against the Aboriginal peoples.
Now, the political leaders of the Official Opposition in the federal
parliament and a provincial government in power are demanding total
independence and sovereignty for Quebec so that it can, as Mr. Bouchard
claims, reach its full economic potential. Quebecers want to become
a “normal people”, Premier Parizeau stated last week.
These are the reasons being put forward as the justification for
the dismemberment of Canada.
Under international law, the right of self–determination may not
be exercised so as to affect the territorial integrity of a recognized
State, unless that State violates the basic human rights and fundamental
freedoms of peoples within its borders, which is when secession
may become the only practical remedy.
The Province of Quebec can hardly claim that the rights of its
citizens are now being abused. The Prime Ministers of Canada have
come from Quebec repeatedly through the history of Canada, including
for 25 of the past 26 years. The leader of the Official Opposition
in the House of Commons is a Québécois; the leader
of the Progressive Conservative Party, which formed the previous
federal government is a Québécois; the Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court is a Québécois, the Canadian
Ambassador to the United States is a Québécois. And
as Mr. Bouchard told you, his secessionist party has been treated
fairly in Parliament even though it openly avows the dismemberment
of Canada itself. Quebec holds 75 of 211 seats in the House of Commons.
One third of the seats in the Supreme Court of Canada are guaranteed
Nevertheless, the secessionist government in Quebec has made public
its program to separate from Canada, which will formally place Quebec
on the course of secession. Within one year, Premier Parizeau, has
promised to hold a referendum on separation from Canada. If there
is a “yes’ vote on the referendum—even a fifty–per–cent–plus
one “yes” vote—Quebec promises to separate. If
Canada refuses, then Quebec will make a unilateral declaration of
independence, and attempt to impose its own laws on an exclusive
basis, throughout the territory of the existing province.
As an Indian, I am terribly disturbed by this scenario, which makes
no allowance for the rights of my people.
In May Mr. Bouchard stated publicly that the Aboriginal peoples
in Quebec do not have the right to self–determination – in his words,
“it does not belong to them”, Yet Mr. Bouchard’s
chief legal advisor, Professor Daniel Turp of the University of
Montreal, wrote in 1992;
“The fact that [Aboriginal peoples] constitute peoples who
are self–identified as peoples confers on them a right of self–determination
at the same Jo vet as Quebec. Aboriginal nations and Québécois
both.., have a right to self–determination. In terms of legitimacy,
the Aboriginal peoples, the Aboriginal nations on their territory,
are quite ahead of the francophones of Quebec, the anglophones of
Quebec, all the Europeans and other nationalities on this territory.’
The secessionists are simply saying that we Crees may not choose
to stay in Canada They are saying that whether we like it not, and
with or without our consent, we are aboard the canoe of independence,
and may not stay where we are on the dry land of Canada. We are
being told that we must join with the secessionists in their adventure
to redress their historic wrongs.
And if the Crees refuse to go with Quebec, what then? What will
Quebec do if the Crees invoke their treaty rights as citizens of
Canada, protected by the Canadian Constitution? What will Quebec
do if we ask the governments to respect their own laws and respect
our constitutional and treaty rights—the right to live on
our lands in Canada and to benefit from all of the rights of Aboriginal
peoples in Canada?
Mr. Jacques Brassard, now a prominent member of the new government
in Quebec City, stated in May that an independent Quebec would ensure
that its laws are respected by those who may resist separation from
Canada. He was referring primarily to the Crees. Mr. Brassard warned,
and I quote: “We would have to maintain order with the means
of a modern state; that means laws, courts, and police forces, which
are also institutions and instruments of a state”.
We Crees are not nationalists, and we are not contemplating secession
or insurrection. We have never and will never use violence. We ask
ourselves however, in the face of the potential breakup of Canada:
Who is it that is really threatening these things?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the situation we face not many miles
from here. If the Crees want to remain in Canada, we will have to
face the police forces and army of a State that is itself acting
in defiance of Canadian and international law. Mr. Bouchard was
careful to avoid these question when he spoke here in March.
He attempted to soothe the American people, to make it all look
My people are worried. At our Cree Nation Assembly last month they
gave the mandate to hold a Cree referendum if Quebec holds its promised
referendum on secession. We Crees do indeed intend to make our own
choice, to assert a right of self–determination at least equal to
that claimed by Quebec.
Of course, the new government of Quebec promises that it will adequately
define and then respect the rights of the Aboriginal peoples in
an independent Quebec, and they ask us to be content with that.
But they ignore the fact that the very establishment of an independent
Quebec through the process they describe will entail violations
of our basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Among these
violations are denial of our nationality, denial of our right of
self–determination as a people, unilateral abrogation of our treaty
rights, and the imposition of a new international border between
us and our brethren in the rest of Canada.
Mr. Parizeau, now the Premier of Quebec, reacted immediately and
heatedly to the Cree decision to hold our own referendum. He declared
that the Crees would have to respect the wishes of Quebec in its
own referendum. He stated that Quebec’s borders were inviolable,
that the territorial integrity of Quebec with its present borders
could not be questioned. He stated again that the Crees, as an Aboriginal
people, does not have a right of self–determination.
These double standards are deeply disturbing, and make us fear
for the future of our people. Premier Parizeau claims territorial
integrity for Quebec, but not for Canada, a recognized State. He
objects to the idea of a nation–wide Canadian referendum on Quebec
secession, stating that Quebecers have the right to decide for themselves.
However, when my people take a similar position and explain that
the future of the Crees can only be determined by the Crees themselves,
and that the Crees will not permit themselves to be forcefully integrated
into the entire Quebec population, Mr. Parizeau demurs.
The secessionists are now accusing the Government of Canada of
engaging in a conspiracy with the Aboriginal peoples to use the
Aboriginal issue to block separation. This is both paternalistic
to us, and untrue.
The Crees saw all of this coming several years ago. We began to
research our rights under Canadian and international law. We sought
to further delineate our rights, and to inform the international
community of the threatened violation of our human rights. Our basic
study on Cree rights in the context of Quebec secession was tabled
before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1992, and
published subsequently in the New York International Law Review.
The Aboriginal peoples, and the Crees in particular, have indeed
now been recognized as crucial elements that could prevent the secession
of Quebec. But it was not until May of this year that the Canadian
federal Minister of Indian Affairs, Ron Irwin, finally stated the
obvious, and confirmed the right of the Aboriginal peoples and their
territory to choose to remain in Canada. The hostility and outrage
of the secessionists was deafening, but in the end they had to admit
that he might have a point.
After all, Mr. Irwin explained, the Crees have been on their lands
for 5,000 years. The Canadian Prime Minister stated that Mr. Irwin
was doing his job, and that as long as there was a Canadian Constitution,
the federal government would have a special relationship with Aboriginal
peoples. He also observed that while Quebec’s borders as a
province are guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution, there was
no guarantee that an independent Quebec would have the same borders
as the present Province of Quebec.
We are confident that our position in law is clear. The Canadian
Constitution recognizes us as a people. As a people, the Crees are
entitled enjoy the right of self–determination described in the
two International Covenants and other United Nations instruments.
International law experts consider that Quebec, as an administrative
entity within Canada made up of diverse populations, is not a self–determination
An act of secession by Quebec would constitute a sufficient violation
of the Crees’ fundamental rights for us to invoke an external
right of self–determination, and give the Crees, at the very least,
the choice to remain in Canada.
As for the purported extinguishment of Cree rights, legal experts
note that the concept, like discovery, is increasingly being rejected
as racist against Aboriginal peoples and incompatible with modern
concepts of human rights. In any case it must be noted that extinguishments
of Cree rights, if they occurred at all, did so in a federalist
context in which our rights to remain in Canada were enshrined.
And if extinguishment is an issue to be used against the Crees,
let us not forget that Quebec’s sovereign rights were also
extinguished and surrendered in 1763 and in again in 1867.
I have already referred to the conclusions of secessionist advisor
Professor Daniel Turp, who has stated the view that the Crees would
have the right to choose—Canada, Quebec, or even independence.
Likewise Gordon Robertson, former Clerk to the Privy Counsel, and
once Canada’s most senior civil servant, predicts that there
may be dire consequences if Aboriginal constitutional rights are
The secessionists like to say that it would be absurd for 12,000
Crees and 10,000 Inuit to determine the status of such a large area
of land. This is of course, a political and not a legal argument.
So is Mr. Bouchard’s argument that Quebec is the only ‘nation’
of 7 million people in the Western world who does not have their
own State. New York City could make the same claim. Many Europeans
comment on the fact that Canada is too large a country to have a
population of only 28 million people.
However, in the context of Quebec secession, the political arguments
are likely to be just as important as the legal ones. The big questions
are: What would Canada do? Would certain countries recognize Quebec?
Would human rights be a factor in the decision to recognize the
And most critical for us: Would force be used against the Crees
if we asserted our right to choose? The secessionists predict that
all will be peaceful and reasonable. Nevertheless, they now state
that they will assemble an army. Asked who threatens them, they
reply that they need an army “just as any modern State”.
When I think of Mr. Jacques Brassard’s comments about the
instruments of a modern state, I can only think that one purpose
of the Quebec Army will be to deal with the Aboriginal people who
may reject being taken from Canada.
The secessionists also raise the spectre of an Indian uprising
in Canada. If the right of self–determination of the Crees in Quebec
is recognized, they claim, then all the Indians in Canada and the
United States will have the right to set up their own countries
and the situation would be intolerable. This line of argument is
Please recall, it is not the Aboriginal peoples who are attempting
to upset the political makeup of North America. I must repeat: the
Crees are not secessionists and we are not nationalists. it Quebec
makes no attempt to unilaterally change a constitutional landscape
in which we are an explicit stakeholder, then the issue of our right
to external self–determination remains moot. Our right of self–determination
would arise from the fundamental denial of our rights in the process
have just explained. Self–determination conveys no right of secession
in States where human rights are respected.
The big question, as always, is: What would the United States do?
Mr. Bouchard came here to Washington to tell the American people
that he did not plan to take the campaign for Quebec sovereignty
beyond Canada’s borders. But he had just come from a meeting
with the United Nations Secretary General; and he subsequently went
to Europe to meet with the most senior members of the French government
to discuss the secessionist cause.
Here in Washington he told you that he was simply providing information
on an internal Canadian issue. He said this despite the fact that
the secessionists have said over and over again that the success
of their venture will depend on a favourable reception from the
United States, and they have lobbied here to achieve this end.
I will not pretend that I am not interested in your support. We
Crees and the other Aboriginal peoples in Quebec need the support
of the American people. We believe that the interests of the Aboriginal
peoples are at stake, but also that the honour of Canada and the
community of North American nations is also at stake. For this reason,
we want you to ask tough, vigilant questions of Quebec now, and
also if and when it requests membership in the club of nations.
This membership should not be granted if its achievement can only
be accomplished through the breach and denial of our fundamental
So I ask: Where will the United States stand on this issue? Is
it hands–off no matter what happens?
Quebec secession is essentially an ethnic nationalism that is supported
by barely halt of the Quebecers of French descent (a majority of
whom, by the way, agree that the Aboriginal peoples have the right
to make their own choice). Mr. Bouchard told this audience that
Quebec nationalism is “territorial nationalism’. There
is no such thing—and it is hard to imagine a territorial nationalism
where two–thirds of the “national” territory only came
into the province in 1912. No, these arguments were given only to
quiet American concerns.
It should be obvious that others may have a great interest in what
happens in Canada. We have heard first hand reports in Geneva that
the secessionists have prior agreements with Belgium and France
to quickly recognize an independent Quebec. It is impossible to
predict the outcome of any new arrangements on the political makeup
of North America, or on the changes in trade relations that could
occur in the North American trading bloc if European interests secure
political affinities in an independent Quebec.
A New York Times editorial late last week stated, and I quote,
‘the United States has political, economic and neighbourly
interests in keeping Canada whole as well as a desire to avoid the
chaotic unknown. As a global superpower, America wants stability
on its borders, not neighbours engaged in a testy divorce... In
power, the Parti Québécois may yet convince the majority
of Quebecers they would be better off as a nation apart. That would
be unfortunate for all concerned.” End of quote.
We Crees also have strong political, economic and neighbourly interests
in avoiding the chaotic unknown. But there is an important connection
between Cree and U.S. interests. The U.S. is correctly reticent
about interfering in Canada’s internal affairs, but it is
beyond dispute that human rights issues are always a matter for
international discussion and comment. It is also beyond dispute
that the human rights of Aboriginal peoples including in Canada,
are not fully respected.
It would be particularly unfortunate if Americans were to accept
the position advanced by Michael Lind in his article in Foreign
Affairs in May, where he implicitly condones the oppression
of small groups as an acceptable cost of Quebec secession. “Quebecers,
if independent, might be more inclined to oppress American Indians
in Quebec,” he observes, just prior to an explanation that
he is of course “not condoning any injustice.”
Full respect for the fundamental human rights of the Crees and
the other Aboriginal peoples in Quebec would include our right to
choose whether we wish to remain in Canada in the event of Quebec
secession. Guaranteeing Cree human rights and choices — currently
being denied by the Quebec secession strategy — could decisively
influence the desirability of the secession option. The guarantee
of Cree rights and full respect of our treaty with Canada and Quebec
could seriously affect the Quebec secession option.
Economically speaking, about 50% of the electricity generated in
Quebec is produced in the Cree Territory, 50 1000 megawatt–hours
per year with a value of some $2 billion per year. Half to all of
the electricity exported to the U.S. from Quebec is generated on
Cree lands. Millions of dollars worth of timber and pulp is taken
from the Cree Territory every year, and many millions of dollars
more of copper, gold, silver and other minerals. Much of this is
imported into the United States. If Cree Territory remains in Canada,
an independent Quebec would be a smaller, poorer country than it
is as a Canadian Province.
Politically, if Quebec secedes with its borders intact, Canada
would be split into two parts, east and west of Quebec. If however
Cree territory remained in Canada, Canada would remain continuous
from coast to coast.
I want to conclude with a frank explanation of our interest in
this entire issue. The Crees do not oppose the aspirations and legitimate
expression of self–determination by any people; and we certainly
will do nothing to prevent an expression of self–determination by
any populations in Quebec, so long as there is full and equal respect
for the rule of law and our human rights. Quebec may well have legitimate
claims; but it may make no valid claims to the Cree people or Cree
Territory that would deny the Cree peoples right to choose how we
would be governed.
“What do the Crees want?” Our critics ask. So let me
end by telling you what I want for my people, and what we want for
all Aboriginal peoples. We want to become legitimate and genuine
participants in our society and its government. We want the Aboriginal
peoples, who today are the most marginalized peoples in our country,
to have a fair share of the wealth of the nation. We want our people
to be treated with respect. We want our opinions and our beliefs
to be taken seriously.
We want our lands and our environment protected from irresponsible
and destructive development; and we want our people, who have cared
for those lands and resources for thousands of years, to have a
real say and stake in their future use. We want our people to benefit
from the best educational and health services that we can provide.
We want our people to have decent housing, sanitation, and clean
water to drink, and meaningful economic choices. We want an end
to tuberculosis, and whopping cough, and gastroenteritis and other
endemic diseases that were eliminated in non–native communities
in Canada decades ago. This is what we want for our people and I
want for my children.
So when and if that day comes, and my people have made their choice,
and I am asked; you can hold me to my word—this is what I
In the meantime, we ask to be treated equally and with respect
for our fundamental rights, particularly in the context of the possible
secession of Quebec from Canada.
President Woodrow Wilson stated:
“No right exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to
sovereignty as if they were property.”
We feel that these words are as applicable to the situation facing
Aboriginal peoples in Quebec as they were when they were spoken.
Thank you, and thank you once again for asking us to speak here
For more information see Grand Council of the Crees Web site.