Monday, 18 July 2016

Urban Living While Dreaming of a Stronger Cree Nation: Working to Establish a Framework for the Establishment of Trade and Commerce Agreement

By Stephen Penner, 1st year MDP student

James Bay at 9:30pm. Photo courtesy of Irene Neeposh
Watchya, Kwey and Boozooh from Montreal…

Coming from the west where the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and Les Paix des Braves Agreement are often pointed to as models of modern treaties, I assumed that consultations on a trade and commerce agreement would be a straightforward project. 

What I have found half way through my placement, 41 plane legs travelled, over 17K in travel- air and car, meetings with five of the nine Quebec Cree communities from the Chiefs and councils to economic development corporations, from small groups of local entrepreneurs to large all community assemblies to regional economic development entities, is that undertaking a project like this is vastly more complex and multilayered than I ever imagined.  

The scope and scale of the consultations is as large and as the vast Eeyou Istchee (the traditional territory and homeland of the Crees of northern Quebec) and as complex as the difference between the nine communities that make up the people of this amazing territory.

The necessary process of community consultation, engagement and information gathering is wonderfully challenging. I am only support and if not for the clear vision of the director and team here it would be uncertain if this massive undertaking would be possible.

Flowers on an Island in the middle of James Bay. Photo courtesy of Irene Neeposh
I am sure of a couple of things and one is that the development of a plan to diversify the economy is a truly necessary venture.  The structure was called for under the JBNQA and the power was transferred under Les Paix des Braves but an implementation system was never fully developed and developing that system is the ultimate goal.  Travelling on the dirt roads that lead out of paved communities to a highway that bisects Cree Territory I have seen the Jamiesens or non-Cree at work in Cree Communities and witnessed the various forms of leakage out of the places that project money is supposed to support.  

Souvenirs, including buckshot discovered while eating a delicious goose
Back in the office in a beautiful building in Old Montreal all the trappings of modern society surround me. However, my heart seems to long for my trips North- for the frigid James Bay, where we were surrounded by ice on the 29th of June.  While in the city I miss the sense of peace that I experience while in community- the transformative power of refocusing that occurs after being in an Elders Camp where smoking duck, eating rabbit stew and sipping a cup of Labrador tea is enjoyed slowly.  There is the beauty of a quiet conversation over a feast of Nisk or Goose and boiled bannock or being a part of an assembly of Youth discussing how to better their futures. The marriage that the Cree of Eeyou Ischtee have manage to make between all the worlds that they now live in is something incredible.  

Halfway through and I am trying to drink all my experiences in order to remember each of them as precisely as possible.


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