North

Former Cree Grand Chief Billy Diamond honoured in renaming of key northern Quebec highway

A motion to officially change the name of the James Bay Highway to the Route Billy-Diamond Highway passed unanimously Tuesday afternoon in Quebec's National Assembly, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. 

Motion passed on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement on Nov. 11

Billy Diamond, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 1, 1976. The main highway linking most of the coastal Cree communities has been renamed in his honour. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The main highway serving the Cree communities in northern Quebec has been renamed in honour of former Cree Grand Chief Billy Diamond.

A motion to officially change the name of the James Bay Highway to the Route Billy-Diamond Highway passed unanimously Tuesday afternoon in Quebec's National Assembly. It falls on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the signing of the treaty that bears his signature — the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. 

"The renaming of this critical infrastructure link that safely connects our Cree communities and the region with the economic centres of Quebec and Canada is a very fitting and appropriate tribute to the late Billy Diamond," said Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum, in a release. The Cree Nation government officially asked Quebec to rename the highway after a vote in August.

Very fitting and appropriate tribute to the late Billy Diamond.- Abel Bosum, Cree Grand Chief

"It acknowledges [Diamond's] important role in the history of northern Quebec and also in the future development, not only of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, but of this region and Quebec as a whole," said Bosum.

The newly renamed highway was initially constructed in order to facilitate the construction of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project in the 1970's. It is 620 kilometres long, extending from Matagami, a non-Cree town in the South to the non-Cree town of Radisson in the North near the Cree community of Chisasibi.  Along the way, it connects most of the coastal Cree communities to each other and to the South. 

The newly renamed highway, Route Billy-Diamond Highway, is 620 kilometres long and connects many of the Cree coastal communities with each other and to the South. (Karine Mateu/Radio-Canada)

Diamond, who died in 2010, served as a band manager and then Chief in his home community of Waskaganish, according to the release from the Cree Nation Government. He was also a driving force in the launching of Cree-owned airline, Air Creebec, and played a central role in the creation of the Grand Council of the Crees, serving as Grand Chief from 1974 to 1984. It was during this period where the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was negotiated and signed with then Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa.

"Billy Diamond with Robert Bourassa succeeded in building something larger together," said Quebec Premier François Legault in his address Tuesday in Quebec's National Assembly.

The motion Legault tabled Tuesday also recognizes the importance of the agreement to the socio-economic development of Quebec as a whole, as well as the development of the Cree Nation and Inuit of Nunavik, who were also signatories. 

"With the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement we became...partners," said Legault. 

"[The agreement has] been a source of inspiration not only in Quebec, but in Canada and across North America."

Then Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, left, shakes hands with Inuit and Cree representatives in Montreal on Nov. 15, 1974, after Quebec signed a hydro agreement with the Cree in James Bay. Next to Bourassa is Billy Diamond, former chief of the Cree Grand Council. ((Canadian Press))

He said the signing of the $4.7 billion Grande Alliance agreement earlier this year between himself and current Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum is the continuation of the vision set forth by Diamond and Bourassa. 

"We must continue with this great story of collaboration between us and Indigenous nations," said Legault.

The highway is currently undergoing a $334 million upgrade. 

A popular Facebook group where travellers share stories and conditions along the highway changed its name Tuesday evening. 

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