Cree Nation closer to self-governance, greater control over lands with new agreement

After years of negotiations with the federal government, Quebec Cree are a step closer to having greater autonomy over their lands and communities thanks to a newly signed governance agreement with Ottawa.

Federal government approves governance agreement, constitution after years of talks

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come says the 'Crees have really achieved a form of real self-determination.' (Catou Mackinnon/CBC )

After years of negotiations with the federal government, Quebec Cree are a step closer to having greater autonomy over their lands and over the way their nation is governed.

The Canadian government has recently approved the Cree Nation Governance Agreement, which gives the Cree in the James Bay region and northern Quebec more control over the lands immediately surrounding their communities, the power to collect their own taxes, and stable funding into 2040.

"In essence, the Crees have really achieved a form of real self-determination in which they are really masters of their own destiny and determine what's best for the community," said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come.

The approval comes after talks with Ottawa, dating back to 2009.

Coon Come said the new agreement will also provide the nation with more funding, which will help ensure financial peace and security in the years to come and set a "basis for real governance."

With taxation power, each community will also be able to decide whether or not to tax its members.​

Under the deal, the Cree government will also have the power to create their own laws in the nine Cree First Nations communities in Quebec. As it stands, it can only draft and implement bylaws.

A Cree Constitution

The agreement also means the drafting of a constitution, an internal document which gives the Cree government more authority over the structure of their administration without needing Ottawa's permission to make changes.

"It's a Cree Constituion that will embrace Cree values, Cree principles and once it's adopted, the federal government will have no say in it and I think that's a real achievement," said Coon Come.

The Cree government moved to approve the two documents in April after months of public consultations, despite opposition from some chiefs and members of the communities.

Coon Come hopes that the two sides will soon set a date to sign the agreement and that funding will come through by the end of the year.

With files from CBC's Sarah Leavitt and Jaime Little