Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I would like to say a few words about this bill. I want to thank the Senate for passing the motion to allow us to deal with it today, because it is a very important bill, and as Senator Harder has stated, it’s something that we must deal with before the end of the month.
This morning, the Aboriginal Peoples Committee held full hearings on the bill. We heard witnesses from the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. We heard from Mr. Perry Billingsley, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government; and Sylvain Ouellet, Director General, Treaties and Aboriginal Government. From the Department of Justice Canada, we also had Geneviève Thériault, Senior Counsel. That was our panel that gave us the government side of the story.
On the second panel, from the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), we had Grand Chief Abel Bosum; Deputy Grand Chief Mandy Gull; former Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come; executive director Bill Namagoose; lawyer Paul John Murdoch; and Youth Grand Chief Kaitlyn Hester-Moses. As well, we had John Hurley, a partner from Gowling WLG (Canada).
I must say the senators asked compelling questions. The witnesses answered thoroughly and completely. I want to say a few things about the agreement itself, and I’m using mostly the notes that we got from the grand chief this morning.
As Senator Harder said, the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee has more than 18,000 Eeyou or Cree occupying their traditional territory of Eeyou Istchee, which covers about 400,000 square kilometres located mainly to the east and south of James Bay and Hudson Bay.
This agreement has been in the works for some time, and as the grand chief stated to us this morning, to fully appreciate the significance of this, they had to say a few words about their treaty, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which they fought tooth and nail for and which they signed in 1975. And our former colleague, Senator Watt, was one of the signatories to that agreement.
Although I’m happy that he’s now the president of Makivik, it’s a bit sad that he wasn’t here today to see the signing of this particular bill.
So that was signed in 1975, and though they saw it as a partnership in governance and development between Canada and Quebec, some difficulties and disputes arose. There was the beginning of litigation, but the impasse was solved when, probably in 2008, the bureaucrats finally said, “Treaty trumps policy.” From that point on, 2008 to 2018, negotiations were ongoing, and we have before us today the outcome of those negotiations.
Congratulations to the Cree who have fought long and hard and involved their community members at every step of the way.
Bill C-70 provides the enactment of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee governance agreement act, and this new act will give effect and force of law to the Cree Nation governance agreement and the Cree constitution.
Now, as an aside, when our committee was travelling last week on a nation-to-nation relationship, we did hear from several communities how important it is for each nation to have their own constitution, and clearly the Cree have set that model. They are setting a model which other nations may wish to follow.
We were told today that almost half of their elected chiefs are women — and we saw two of the women chiefs, the deputy grand chief as well as the youth grand chief — so they have definitely developed gender balance within their development as they go forward. I congratulate them on that. I was very happy to see that.
I think that is all I wish to say other than to congratulate them. I’m happy that they’re able to be here today to witness third reading and to know that Royal Assent is coming within days and that their hard work has paid off very well. Thank you.
Hon. Carolyn Stewart Olsen: Would you take a question, senator?
Senator Dyck: Yes.
Senator Stewart Olsen: This has been a long journey for the Cree, and I remember — and this dates me a lot — when Matthew Coon Come first came to the public’s attention. I so respect that man, I can’t tell you.
Anyway, just because I’m woefully ignorant of a lot of this, what happens with the law-and-order provision? Who is responsible for law and order in the nation, and how does that follow along with the Canadian laws, with what’s happening in the rest of the country?
Senator Dyck: Thank you. I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m not a lawyer. But as I understand it, they have incorporated their own laws, so those laws would apply on their own lands.