Quebec Cree self-governance closer to reality after act gets 3rd reading

Self-government for the James Bay Cree Nation in Quebec over part of their territory moved one step closer to reality Thursday.

'It's good news for the Cree Nation,' says Bill Namagoose

Cree Nation Government executive director Bill Namagoose says the act would be 'good news for the Cree Nation.' (CBC)

Self-government for the James Bay Cree Nation in Quebec over part of their territory moved one step closer to reality Thursday, as the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee Governance Agreement Act passed third reading in the House of Commons.

The act would mean complete autonomy for Cree to write their laws on what are known as category 1A lands — essentially the Cree communities and areas where about 95 per cent of Cree people live.

"It's good news for the Cree Nation," said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees.

"It gives us powers to decide how we would function [while] at the same time enjoying financial and legal security and greater autonomy. We don't need another government to approve our laws."

The act also gives the Cree Nation the power to tax, but not the obligation, which is an important distinction for Namagoose.

"It will be at discretion of the Crees," said Namagoose.

"In the negotiations, the federal government had insisted that we take over taxation power and that we must use it and therefore reduce their financial burden. There was a standoff there," said Namagoose, adding it was part of the reason why the negotiations for this agreement and the legislation took 10 years.

The legislation also gives the Crees greater financial autonomy and stable funding until 2040.

"We are not financially accountable to Canada. We will be financially accountable to Cree citizens," said Namagoose, adding the agreement obliges the Cree Nation Government to send yearly financial reports to each Cree household, within six months after the yearly audits are conducted.

Namagoose says the legislation will be important for future generations.

"I'm glad our people have that greater autonomy," said Namagoose.

"We won't have to fight with Ottawa every five years over funding of category 1A lands like we've had in the past. The next generation of Crees will inherit a great road map."

The Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee Governance Agreement Act also creates a Cree constitution, based on the Cree-Naskapi Act, an agreement signed in 1984.

The legislation gives the Crees complete control to amend a Cree constitution without needing approval from Ottawa.

The legislation will now go for debate in the Senate. It also needs approval from Quebec.