Quebec and Cree Nation sign 30-year economic development deal for James Bay territory

A railway expansion, moving toward electrification for industrial projects and designating protected wildlife spaces are some of the components of the venture. 

The deal is expected to last 30 years, ensure economic stability for the region

Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum (left) and Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement Tuesday. (Susan Bell/CBC)

The Quebec and Cree Nation governments have signed a memorandum of understanding for a $5-billion, long-term economic development deal for the James Bay territory, known in the Cree language as Eeyou Istchee.

According to the mandate of the "Grande Alliance," the deal aims to  "the Indigenous values of the region," while allowing several ambitious social and economic projects to proceed.

Those include the expansion of the rail network to reduce the negative impacts of trucking, the electrification of some industrial projects in the region and infrastructure sharing, Quebec Premier François Legault and Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum announced Monday. 

"This is proof that it is possible to work together on ambitious socioeconomic development projects, to take advantage of the immense mining potential of northern Quebec for the benefit of our two nations, while respecting the environment, the territory and Indigenous values," Legault said. 

Funds for the Grande Alliance will come from the Cree, Quebec and Canadian governments, as well as from the private sector. The 30-year deal aims at ensuring economic stability in the James Bay territory and adjacent regions of the province.

The plans were proposed by the Cree Nation and refined alongside the Quebec government. 

Legault says the railway expansion is especially important, so mining companies can more easily access untapped deposits of resources such as lithium, a key component in electric car batteries.

The deal also contains a commitment to training workers in the Cree territory.

For Bosum, an important part of the deal is provisions to protect land and wildlife.

"The project will contribute to taking advantage of the natural resources in the region, to create jobs and business opportunities for the Crees and our neighbours, all while protecting our environment and wildlife," Bosum said.

"We are a people who are spiritually connected to the animals, so we know when development is sustainable."

A feasibility study — the first phase of the project — will cost several tens of millions of dollars, Legault said.