Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff
Nation: What were your first thoughts when you heard an agreement had been
Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff: I had mixed feelings right away. When you
deal with Quebec, you know about all the unfulfilled obligations in the
James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. You know they made a commitment
there and 25 years past we get nothing out of over 300 unfulfilled
obligations. They define this agreement as being a new relationship.
Obviously there are going to be concerns because we fought so hard to get
the things we were promised.
you surprised to learn these negotiations were taking place?
we were all surprised. Everyone was affected by what happened on the 11th
of September, but I didnít think it would go to this extent. At first I
thought maybe it was a minor side agreement on forestry, but it ended up
being a global settlement.
are several ambiguities and areas left to be negotiated. Do you fear
people are being asked to make a judgment on the agreement with so many
questions left unanswered?
problem I have is people are giving a rosy picture to the agreement.
People have to read the agreement in order to understand it. There a lot
of things that weíre giving up here in terms of how we deal with our
land. Itís so hard to comprehend that people would go ahead and get into
discussions with Quebec. It makes me wonder: Are we giving up on so many
things we fought for so hard for? And now weíre being looked at from all
over the world with mixed reactions. We made a lot of friends when we
spoke against hydro development because of the mass destruction that would
happen in our own backyards. Now, the Cree leadership gives its consent to
a hydroelectric dam. Even the role and responsibilities of the tallyman;
the tallymen were not even consulted before this agreement in principle
was signed. The tallymen and many families are going to be greatly
affected by these potential projects.
does agreement affect your constituency among the Cree youth?
going to affect our generation and our future generations. We feel we have
to speak on their behalf because if we donít, who will? Each time we
speak to our elders they tell us, ďYouíve got to protect your way of
life.Ē With the land, thatís where you get your culture, your language
and your strength. Things come out of the land, and now itís at stake. A
lot of people enjoy hunting, fishing and trapping Ė and all thatís at
stake because of the potential for poisons entering the water system and
the surrounding habitat. Youíve heard the story of Ouje-Bougamou two
weeks ago in regard to the mining development there. Now thereís a lot
of toxins in their water. Quebec only admitted this after the signing of
the agreement in principle. The question arises again: Can we trust them?
How many more hidden things are there that weíre not aware of? Why are
cancer rates going so high in the communities? These are questions you
have to raise.
Moses says we canít roll back modernization and that we have to make our
peace with Quebec. How do you respond?
a hard question. For me, weíre dealing with a sovereignist government.
They have an agenda to separate from Canada. The same government said a
few years ago they would use all force against the Crees if we were to
stand against separatism back in 1995. And now weíre agreeing to their
terms? They say we have a new relationship. You wonder whether it is a
you be in favour of continuing trying to protect Cree rights by means of
the legal system?
another question for me, if we could live with that. The court cases could
have gone on for years, we are told. We donít know when they would ever
come to a judgment. But I think there should have been other means of
you think Ted Moses had the democratic mandate to enter into these
remember a resolution that was passed in 2000 at the annual general
assembly where Cree leaders were told not to surrender any rights. I
believe somehow the rights of fishers and trappers are going to be
affected by this. The right of going out to the land and going hunting and
fishing is going to be greatly affected. Itís going to be the
devastating effects of the mining, the logging, mercury poisoning and
whatever else comes with the development.
wouldnít there at least be more jobs for people?
have to analyze the true amounts that are committed. Quebec is handing
down responsibilities that they were supposed to run. We have to fund,
through that $70 million, various regional organizations. I think itís
yet to be determined how that will be divided among the communities. Our
population will likely double over 25 years. Is $70 million enough to
create jobs? Well, how many, and where?
are you telling people in your discussions of this? Do you say we should
oppose this? Negotiate further? How do you approach it?
me, there has to be more transparent discussions. Two months is a very
short time. A lot of our people are still out in the bush and canít come
to the meetings that are taking place right now. Even the students down
south Ė theyíre greatly affected by it. Iíve gotten a number of
calls from students going to school in the south and theyíre very
concerned. One student said, ďI feel betrayed. All the things we fought
for and thinking that the river would be there for all time and now
consent has been given to go ahead on the project.Ē I donít know how
greatly Mistissini Lake will be affected. Iím hearing rumours that the
lake will rise up to six feet. Will that have an effect on the fish and
the habitat around the lake? Definitely there will be. These are the
questions we need to ask ourselves. Is it really a fair deal? I donít
know how many billions they take out of Eeyou Istchee each year, but
weíre being told weíll get 1.75 per cent on an annual basis.
you were to speak to Ted Moses about this, what would you tell him?
a lot of concern out there. We really need to discuss this. The question I
have all the time is, how can 20 people decide on behalf of the Cree
nation what the devastating effects 15 or 20 years down the road all this
will have on people? Do you think this agreement is really going to help
us? Or will the same thing happen as with the JBNQA? Quebec reserves the
right to suspend funding if the audits are not done the way they want to
see them. So there are a lot of questions.
you be pushing for a referendum?
donít know. Iíd have to listen to the people and hear what their
feelings on it are.
are people telling you so far?
There are a lot of questions, especially from the young people. Twenty-five years ago, people werenít highly educated. Now we have a lot of young people who are highly educated. They know what questions to ask. A lot of them studied economics. A lot of them studied law. And a lot have studied political science. They have studied the structures of how governments operate. Now we have that knowledge. We have those youth who can ask questions and theyíre asking them right now. There are several questions that need to be answered. And nobody seems to be able to answer them yet.
with permission of The
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