Eeyou Istchee-James Bay government launches in Quebec

Quebec creates new hybrid government to replace Municipalité de la Baie James, giving more power to local Cree people.

Half-Cree, half-non-aboriginal regional government replaces James Bay municipality

The new flag of the Eeyou Istchee-James Bay Regional Government is displayed at ceremony today. The new government features equal representation from aboriginal and non-aboriginal community representatives. (cbc)

Officials from Quebec and the James Bay Cree Nation will gather to celebrate the creation of the new Eeyou Istchee - James Bay Regional Government today. 

The new regional government is made up of 11 Cree representatives and 11 representatives from the surrounding non-aboriginal communities in the James Bay region. It will effectively replace the municipal James Bay government.

Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come says it is "a step in the right direction where the people of the North, specifically the Crees, are directly involved in the decision making."

Lands in the James Bay region are divided into three categories. Category 1 lands refer to Cree communities while Category 2 and 3 lands have historically been used for aboriginal hunting and trapping but previously were managed by the Municipalité de la Baie James.

Chief Gordon Blackned welcoming guests to his community of Waskaganish, Que., during the official inauguration of the new Eeyou Istchee-James Bay Regional Government. (Melissa Brousseau/CBC)

Coon Come said the new government will give Cree more power over land in Categories 2 and 3. 

"We are turning the page of the old politics of exclusion. We are now going on the path of inclusion...and avoiding to continue on the path of marginalization," he said.

"Historically, we have been excluded from any decision making on category 2 and category 3 lands. Nobody bothered to consult us. Nobody sought to seek our consent. We were told we had no rights." 

Coon Come said the new regional government builds on the groundwork laid by the James Bay And Northern Quebec Agreement signed in 1975 and the Paix des Braves, signed in 2002. 

"The next step was to have a say in how development takes place. We are (now) capable to be able to administer and co-ordinate and be able to participate in the way development happens in Eeyou Istchee territory."

It'll take a little while to get to know each other - we come from two very different cultures.-  MP Romeo Saganash

Several officials from Quebec will be on hand at an event today in Waskaganish, Que. Delegates include Deputy Premier François Gendron and Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet.

Quebec premier Pauline Marois is set to address the group by video.

Romeo Saganash, MP for Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik- Eeyou says the agreement between the two groups to work together is significant.

"It's historic because the two main populations, the Crees and the Jamesiens, will work together to govern this territory," he said.

"Sure, it'll take a little while to get to know each other — we come from two very different cultures. But just the fact that we've agreed to work together for the future is historically significant."

The first council meeting of the Eeyou Istchee-James Bay Regional Government gets underway in Waskaganish, Que. The council is formed by 22 seats equally distributed between James Bay Cree and non-aboriginal regional representatives. (Melissa Brousseau/CBC)

Matagami Mayor René Dubé says this is an important step forward for Quebec.

"We must remember that the territory under this new structure represents 17 per cent of the territory of Quebec, so it's a first." he said. "The Crees and the Jamesiens will sit down together to manage Category 3 lands. We will work together on development, respecting those who live in this territory."

The regional government's first council meeting was held after the ceremonies. Mayor Manon Cyr of Chibougamau was made the regional government's first chairperson while Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come is vice-chair.


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