Bill C-70: More self-determination for two northern Quebec First Nations
The new law modernizes the governance models for the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach.
This legislation was introduced to modernize the governance models for the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach – both First Nations in northern Quebec. The legislation enacts a Cree Constitution and a historic governance agreement, signed on July 18, 2017, between the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the Government of Canada. The agreement recognizes that the nation of more than 18,000 people can create its own culturally relevant laws and have more say on a variety of local governance issues, including development. It builds on the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern treaty in Canada, signed by the Cree. The Naskapi are a signatory to a similar agreement, the 1978 Northeastern Quebec Agreement. The legislation also gives greater authority to the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, by facilitating political and administrative decisions and processes.
The Senate’s Role
Grand Chief Abel Bosum, of the Grand Council of the Cree (Eeyou Istchee), described the significance of self-governance to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. “This year marks the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the Europeans in Eeyou Istchee. By the time they arrived, we had already been there as a self-governing Indigenous nation for thousands of years,” he said. He added that while Bill C-70 does not introduce self-governance for the Cree, it is critically important to help strengthen it, as well as to advance reconciliation.
Former Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come told the committee that the Cree Nation has signed 80 major agreements with Canada, Quebec and industry in the past 20 years. “We were setting up a policy of inclusion, where Crees could have a say about what development is put in place and how we can set up our structures and be transparent and accountable to our people,” he said. The latest agreement fulfills a vision of the Cree Nation after a long journey, he said. “The agreement itself is a real form of reconciliation. It’s a real form of nation-to-nation building,” he said.
On March 27, 2018, members of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee watched from the Senate gallery as Senators unanimously adopted Bill C-70. Cree and Naskapi local governance had previously both been exercised under the 1984 Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act. The new law removes the Cree from the application of that act. The passage of the bill and enactment of the governance agreement allows the transfer of $200 million from the Government of Canada to the Cree Nation. The new law represents a specific realization of the Government commitment to renew a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples founded on the recognition of rights, respect, collaboration and partnership.