Former Grand Chief Billy Diamond
Nation: Do you find this Agreement is good for the Crees?
Grand Chief Billy Diamond: This Agreement in Principle is unexpected. It
came out of nowhere. What I like about the agreement is that it will
continue with the implementation of the JBNQA. The difficulty I have with
it is including the Eastmain and particularly the Rupertís River
Diversion after all the Crees have done. There was the special Annual
General Assembly in Waskaganish in June 2001. Now weíre saying in that
agreement that the Crees give consent to the Rupertís River Diversion.
Giving up consent like that to me is very difficult. I have problems with
the Rupertís River Diversion because we donít know whatís going to
happen to the river. The Rupertís River is our lifeline in Waskaganish.
It is our heritage river. It is our past; it was part of the fur trade
route that connected us to our Cree cousins in Nemaska, Mistissini and
these types of places. It was a river that we used to come together and
now we are going to divert it. Thatís the hard part. We have to look at
the agreement and study together to see what the consequences are.
about the money?
money was always there. It was hidden in the original JBNQA. What has been
done in this case is to take the Quebec obligations and those obligations
have been quantified. In this case the money is going to come sooner.
Instead of waiting for implementation, court cases or arguing it will be
sooner. In our past experience, as Crees, when money is involved and there
are specific schedules, then the government has always been there with the
cheque. So what we have to do is be much more specific. But itís only a
50-year agreement so the money will be there for 50 years and you have to
be careful because we are surrendering future obligations and we have to
weigh the consequences of that. You are giving up future obligations for
more than just this generation. The generation in the 51st year is the
ones who are going to feel the impact. In my opinion the obligations
wonít be there. The lawyers say otherwise and say weíll go back to the
JBNQA. Theyíre taking the past and future obligations and quantifying
them into dollars and receiving those dollars. Then the Crees will be
implementing the obligations themselves. It will be a difference. The
Crees will not be going to Quebec to complain anymore, they will be going
to the Grand Council and the CRA. This worries me when you see the same
people who are asking for the implementation will be at another level the
people making the decision.
been said that this agreement is partly the result of past negotiators
such as yourself. Do you see some of what you were working towards in it?
finally got my hands on a signed copy and have been going through it and
studying it. I see the agreement going back in time to 15 or 20 years. As
far back as the La Grande Agreement in 1986, there are sections that
previous negotiators have been involved in. There were previous
negotiations on the Eastmain River but none of them included the
is a global settlement and I feel there is a danger in that in the sense
of negotiating. What happens if one party does not agree? Does that mean
the agreement falls apart? Itís important that in the next round that
the communities start asking questions on how we will deal with that.
problem I have with the Agreement, and this came out in Waskaganish, is
the time frame. This is being done really fast for a such a legal and
complicated agreement. To analyze and study it you need time. The agenda
has been set and I wonder whose agenda we are following. Is it theirs or
have been comments from the communities about the secrecy surrounding the
agreement. What do you think of it?
asked questions in Waskaganish about who negotiated it and why now. I
think thatís why you see the hostility from the young people. The youth
feel very betrayed by the Cree leadership. The sense of betrayal is
showing up in their anger. I have never seen meetings like since the early
70ís when the James Bay Project was announced and the information
meetings after. These meetings were very emotionally charged.
young people feel betrayed and excluded. Thatís why the question of
secrecy has come up. But you have to understand that in negotiations,
having meeting while you are negotiating there are certain things people
will say in public and there are things you will not say in public, like
specific details. Still when you are working on an agreement in principle
someone should have told the people we are working on an agreement with
the Premier of Quebec. Thatís why it shocked the people.
a level of trust involved considering Quebecís past record in upholding
its end of the bargain. Do you think we can suddenly say fine, come on
back, give us some money and whatnot, we trust you again?
think thatís why there is shock right now among the Cree people. In my
community people are saying why and why now? What happened to change our
position? After years of
Quebec bashing and confrontation. There were speeches in New York, Geneva
and why this sudden switch? What convinced the Cree leadership? These are
things the Cree people want to know and have answers to. I think this
requires dialogue at the community level. When you hear of something like
this for the first time itís hard. Itís going to take time for this to
sink in. In the meantime people are going to want answers. I mean we been
hammering away and hammering away and all of sudden weíre going to stand
with Quebec. I can understand wanting to develop a relationship and
strategic alliance with Quebec. But what we have done in effect with this
agreement in principle is to extend Quebecís jurisdiction by allowing
them to proceed with the hydro development, forestry and with mining. We
end up absorbing the legal costs of all our court cases with Quebec. These
were cases in which we insisted our rights were in and Quebec should
implement their obligations. These questions will have to be answered at
the community level.
do you see as Cree Consent being in this case? Do you see it as just the
chiefs, a community-by-community vote or a referendum?
version of Cree consent, is the consent to the Eastmain and Rupertís
rivers diversion, is that it requires consent of the communities directly
impacted. All the communities will be impacted by this I believe because
the water is diverted and that particular consent should never have been
given in the agreement. I said that in the meeting in Waskaganish that
Cree consent has been given. You have in effect authorized Hydro-Quebec to
go ahead. Our leadership disagrees with me on that. I said that in the
Agreement it says Crees hereby consent. We have agreed to disagree on this
I donít think that an agreement of this magnitude should be where itís just the chiefs who decide. The people should have time to decide on it and determine if they are happy with it.
Reprinted with permission of The Nation
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