Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash breaks ranks
come out as being opposed to the Agreement-in-Principle that was signed
between the Cree leadership and Quebec Premier Landry on October 23, 2001.
and in doing so I believe I have broken the oath of impartiality. I am
taking many risks. But first
I want to state that whatever comes out of this interview is done with due
respect and without prejudice to anyone, leader, or government. I
anticipate that I may very strongly be challenged for the statements I
will make in this interview. I want to make that clear.
did you decide to announce your opposition at this time? Why not at the
time when the AIP was presented to the Chiefs in Montreal the week before
were certain questions that I asked myself. I honestly did not know whom
to turn to for answers. So I
decided to wait.
were the questions you were asking yourself?
were many. One of them was whether or not the AIP would be binding once
it’s signed in that the Cree Nation would not have a choice but to vote
on a final agreement within a limited time-frame. The other one was
whether or not we would be overstepping the authority of the General
Assembly which, legally, is the authority to which all our institutions,
including the GCCEI/CRA Council/Board - report to.
you made that announcement to the GCCEI/CRA Council/Board, the reaction
from the Grand Chief/Chair was immediate and you were told that you could
oppose all you want but not to expect to use or access the resources of
the GCCEI/CRA, and that you stood alone. What happened?
point I wanted to make at that meeting was that, remembering the oath of
impartiality, I felt that the process to promote the AIP was biased in
that we were asking everyone to play along. I told the meeting that it was
obvious that those who oppose felt they were put down or brushed aside.
The reaction from the meeting confirmed my point. I am really sorry that
this happened. As any human being would have done, I left the meeting. I
was much later informed that the matter of our Nation’s resources had
been clarified at that meeting.
Nation also learned that at that meeting you were accused of staging the
protest that apparently took place during the consultation meeting in
you like to comment on this one?
I can say about this - is this: “I am innocent until proven guilty.”
(laugh) I would rather not dwell on these kinds of questions. I want to
make that clear. There are other more important issues at hand here.
you tell us the reasons you oppose this Agreement?
I am not only concerned about this proposed new agreement but I am
concerned about the overall question of our future as a people and our
we are dealing with, today, is what our ancestors have been dealing with
since Day One of the contact with foreigners - the spirit of
“colonization” and the effect of “oppression” that comes with it.
There is a plan by governments to eventually take full control and occupy
Eeyou Istchee. This is a fact. Unfortunately, the James Bay and Northern
Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) spills out the road map for this eventual
takeover. We have to take a
very serious look at this matter as a nation.
feel that we are binding ourselves to a process that aims to restrict our
freedom to exercise our sovereign authority as peoples over Eeyou Istchee.
is the JBNQA a road map for governments to eventually take full control
over Eeyouch and Eeyou Istchee?
I first learned of the agreement, I thought that it could be a good
agreement if our people were willing to let go of the volume of resources
they were required to sacrifice. But when I found out that it was going to
be another complimentary agreement to the JBNQA, I lost interest. The
concept of “extinguishment” began to plague me, again.
see, what our advisors don’t tell us is this: for the governments,
“extinguishment” is very real. It’s a way to establish, over time,
full control, authority and jurisdiction over aboriginal lands. The way it
works is that it does not serve its purpose until full implementation
takes place of the treaty or agreement in which it exists. It’s an
illusory concept that does not really exist in our sense of reality or at
the level of Eeyou wisdom. Once
the full implementation process is complete, full colonization has taken
place. After that, there is likely an attempt by governments to introduce
legislation that eliminates the concept of Aboriginal lands, rights, title
and identity. This is what Pierre Trudeau attempted to do when he
introduced the White Paper in 1969. He suggested that every Aboriginal
person be considered and treated as any other Canadian citizen.
we do not do anything about what’s going on, if we just continue to ride
on this wave of illusion of future prosperity or the illusion of
generosity of governments, our future generations could end up with the
eventual consequences of losing their language, culture and identity. They
will be the ones to pay for our mistakes. Why do you think there was
residential school? They wanted to disconnect us from the land, make us
lose our language, our cultural beliefs, values, and most of all, to
damage our spirit. Why do you think there is extinguishment?
is your biggest concern with respect to this agreement?
fear that if we do not bother to look to the possible technicalities of
the whole matter at hand and we do not bring it back to the General
Assembly, we could be setting a dangerous precedent for the future. I know
that the people at Whapmagoostui are asking themselves: Will the same
thing happen with respect to the Great Whale diversion scheme? What if we
say “no” and we get out-voted by other communities? There are many, in
my view, too many uncertainties.
going to happen from here on?
think that unless we concentrate on the big picture, that what we are
faced with is the on-going process of “colonization” and the effect of
“oppression” that comes with it – we are going to destroy ourselves.
Oppression is inter-generational and plays a huge role in our reactions to
the actions of governments, our leaders, and it’s very damaging. The
most overpowering effect is fear. Fear is the greatest tool of the
colonizer. Its effect is the following: you get a sense of worthlessness,
helplessness, depression, paranoia, distrust, sleeplessness, unable to
focus at home, in the workplace, harassment, anger, breaking up
friendships, relationships, divisions within families, churches,
leadership and so on. It is very damaging, and we are its victims. Quebec
must be laughing really hard now.
there is a saying that goes something like this:
greatest tool of a colonizer is the mind of the colonized.”
know, its ironic that its not Hydro-Quebec, the forestry companies or the
mining companies we fought so hard and even brought to court that are
promoting the construction of dams, forestry or mining. Think about it.
of my greatest concerns is in the way we always tend to overlook the most
important group in our society, those members who still actively practice
our culture and the traditional way of life and, particularly, our own
Elders. I truly feel for those families who are still out on the land
knowing that they might lose part or all of their trap line and even the
sites in which their loved ones may be buried. We seem to be applying the
concept of “balance of inconvenience” against our own people, a
concept that favours the needs of the greater number of people versus the
smaller group. Didn’t we once argue that it was those who were actively
practicing our culture on the land that made the JBNQA possible?
What happened to us?
you think that the final agreement will be ratified?
really up to the people. A big commitment is required of us by Quebec. Our
Nation must be well educated in order to make an informed decision on this
proposed new agreement. That’s all I can say about that.
would you have proceeded if you had been the Grand Chief?
Would you have taken a different approach?
can’t answer these questions. I believe every leader is different and
has his or her way of leading. When
I was Chief, I could have told my people at Whapmagoostui that the
governments and Hydro-Quebec were too powerful and that we could not stop
Great Whale. Some people did
believe this. But I had total faith that it could be stopped and sure
enough it was shelved. It
might be not dead yet, but the river still runs free today as it has for
millennia. The power is in having faith. If you have faith, Tsey-manitou,
God, does the rest for you.
I do want to say is this, however, regarding the secrecy of the
negotiations: if Premier Landry could not trust his own people not to
mention the deal to the media, then what kind of a government is he
running that they must hide a deal that would bring about economic
benefits to the people who elected them? There is something wrong about
you think that the Quebec Government people were more informed than the
know, it is curious that Mr. Landry received a standing ovation when he
announced the AIP to his government. No, this is a deal that most probably
was carefully crafted over a long period of time, with the participation
of many legal advisors to the government, including the ministry of
justice. Of course, this is just speculation.
about our advisors, do you think that they knew long before it was even
brought to the Chiefs?
would be speculating again if I were to answer that.
do you think of use of the terms “nation-to-nation” in the AIP?
Could this be an attempt by Quebec to have the Cree Nation
recognize it as a “nation” for the purpose of self-determination?
and the price is $3.5 billion and much more!
You know, I am not a lawyer, but I do know that in 1983, the Quebec
National Assembly passed a resolution in the Quebec Parliament,
recognizing Aboriginal Nations in Quebec as “nations”.
But they narrowed down the concept of ‘aboriginal nation’ to
the equivalence of a municipal authority.
They said something to the effect that Aboriginal nations could
exercise self-government within the framework of Quebec legislation, and
only within lands allocated to them.
The resolution further stated that Aboriginal nations could not be
recognized as sovereign nations because Quebec has to protect its
territorial integrity. What does that tell us Eeyouch?
We can only exercise self-government within Category I lands.
And if Quebec goes, we go! Let’s not forget also, any agreement
that we sign with Quebec gives legitimacy to the fate of other Aboriginal
nations in the province. On our part, I do not recall a General Assembly
Resolution recognizing Quebec as a “nation."
I think we have to be very careful.
is the alternative?
of all, I believe that for the record there are some clarifications to be
made with respect to AIP. For
instance, did we do the right thing not bringing back the Agreement to the
General Assembly? I did suggest that we do this at the last Council/Board
meeting, which took place in Montreal. I am also hearing the phrase
“conflict of interest." Because
of the magnitude and complexity of the issues involved, it seems
imperative to get direction from the highest authority of our Nation, the
General Assembly. Otherwise,
the issue of trust could go out of proportions.
Alternative? The alternative
is not more money. That will
come in time. There will be
another deal. We have to
realize that we, the Eeyouch, are sitting on trillions and trillions worth
of natural resources in the last untouched wilderness of North America,
and the whole world will be after them in the future.
We are sitting on a gold mine. This is why governments do not want
to recognize us as a sovereign nation for the time being.
They are certainly buying time. They are very gradually moving into
our homeland and in a very subtle way.
It’s very hard to notice. It
begins with “partnerships,” “new relationship,”
“nation-to-nation relationship,” “new agreements with billions
promised over 50 years,” partnership in tourism,” “new development
corporation,” and on and on. We have been stripped of our freedom to
express ourselves as a people, our freedom to exercise sovereign
authority. As long as our
only goal is to implement the JBNQA, which to me is detrimental and
restrictive of our development and our evolution over time as peoples, we
will continue box ourselves in or remain in this political straight jacket
that we are tied in. We are the only ones who can free us, but we must have a very
have to wake up!
else is going to place us as equals with other nations in the world but
us. Only we can do that, with much determination and faith in
Tsey-manitou. We have to formally affirm and declare our sovereignty, our
sovereign power, authority and jurisdiction over Eeyou Istchee.
Our sovereign power has always been there.
It always stayed with us. We
did not see it because of the blinding and detrimental effect of
“oppression,” a product of what I call the beast, “colonization.”
We must put this in the hands of Tsey-manitou.
We must affirm our sovereignty in a Declaration.
We are preparing this right now.
It will be presented to Eeyouch soon.
Let’s wait before we sign any more agreements with any
governments until we have formally proclaimed Declaration on our
sovereignty under the Sacred Law, Eeyou Customary Law and Eeyou
Philosophy. We can then
negotiate a new Treaty that establishes all the kinds of relationships,
partnerships that we want with other peoples and their governments.
The golden opportunity is now!
That is my position.
there something you will like to say to the people who elected you?
believe that Tsey-manitou, Our Creator, Our Provider, Our Protector, Our
Very Essence has put this Agreement before us for a reason.
It is a wake up call, a call to protect the Earth and much more. We are the last peoples to understand humanity’s connection
to the Earth in a sacred way. We
have a sacred duty and responsibility to humanity.
Our Elders tell us that in order to truly know Tsey-manitou, God,
one must know one’s sacred connection to the Earth. If you want to take something from the Earth Mother, they
say, you must ask the One who created her.
And once given, then you give gratitude. That is the Eeyou Way!
For 500 years these teachings have received but a deaf ear and a
blind eye from the colonizers. But look carefully at what is happening in the world today.
Our nation must be the “Agent of Change” in humanity’s
journey of self-discovery.
the fishes, the little ones on the land, the animals, the birds, the
rocks, the little creeks, the lakes, the rivers, the falls, the trees that
remind us of the One Above – all manifestations of the Spirit of
Tsey-manitou…listen…they are calling for help!
Reprinted with permission of The Nation
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