Montreal

Ancestral rights decision inspires Atikamekw declaration of sovereignty

Grand Chief Constant Awashish tells CBC that Atikamekw First Nation's declaration of sovereignty was influenced by Supreme Court decision of B.C. ancestral rights case.

Atikamekw Nation issue declaration of sovereignty over 80,000 square kilometres of land in Quebec

Members of the Atikamekw First Nation discussed the nation's declaration of sovereignty over 80,000 square kilometres of land in Quebec. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

The Atikamekw First Nation declaration of sovereignty was influenced by Supreme Court decision of B.C. ancestral rights case, Grand Chief Constant Awashish told CBC Montreal's morning radio program Daybreak this morning.

In June, the Supreme Court of Canada granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, the first time the court has made such a ruling regarding aboriginal land. 

Awashish said the Atikamekw people, much like other First Nations within Quebec's boundaries, never signed a treaty with the Canadian government and that it deserved the right to self-government under the landmark Supreme Court decision.

"We never received, we never sold, we never exchanged anything about our land," he told Daybreak host Mike Finnerty.

He said the only nation in Quebec to sign a treaty with the Canadian government are the James Bay Cree.

Awashish said Monday that elected members of the aboriginal First Nation adopted the unilateral declaration of sovereignty to assert their right to self-government on the Nitaskinan region.

"We believe in a strong Atikamekw Nation in a strong Quebec within a strong Canada. That’s the way we’re thinking," Awashish said.

Awashish said the declaration of sovereignty means that any company looking to develop any of the natural resources on their territory need to go through the nation first. 

The Atikamekw First Nation in Quebec has declared its sovereignty over 80,000 square kilometres of territory and says any development in that area must get its approval. (Radio-Canada)

He told The Canadian Press that 35 years of territorial negotiations with governments have provided nothing.

An attempt at reaching an agreement about resource development with the former Parti Québécois government proved to be futile, he said.

"Our people decided that they were losing more than gaining. It was not a win-win situation," Awashish said.

"We are still very open to get to an agreement, but we want something serious."

Read the declaration (in French)

With files from The Canadian Press

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