The Cree of Eeyou Itschee, the Inuit of Nunavik and Naskapi of Nuchimiyuschiiy signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Ottawa Friday to renew and expand their historic relationship.
“Treaty trumps policy,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Cree Nation Government.
The MOU establishes a forum that will meet on at least a quarterly basis for the three nations based in Northern Quebec to discuss common interests.
Issues raised include protecting caribou herds and participating in economic development on their territories.
“As you know, governments have designs on our territory and it’s important that we work together so our rights are respected, and the benefits of development go to Cree people, Inuit people and Naskapi people,” said Namagoose.
“Development will happen with or without us, and it’s up to us to make sure it happens on our terms.”
The MOU was signed by the Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty of the Cree Nation Government, the president of Makivik Corporation, Pita Aatami, and Naskapi Chief Theresa Chemaganish.
Gull-Masty said talks about how to manage wildlife evolved into an inter-nation agreement.
“If we look at the history, we have had overlaps in our territories. We have had marriages between our nations. And we have had traditional relationships of trade and commune,” she said.
“I hope that this history marks a return to what was once our traditional relationships amongst our nation.”
“My issues that I have are very similar with the Naskapis and the Crees, being Native people. So, I’m looking forward to this new alliance, and I know that we can get things done,” said Aatami.
The MOU also has the goal of advancing their interests at a federal level.
Aatami said he hopes the alliance will allow the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi to obtain their own electoral riding.
“Right now, the way it’s structured, it’s like we were made to lose. Because right now, when there is an election, the people south of us, let’s say in the Val-d’Or area, have so much more non-Natives that are going to be voting for a person that they think is the right person for themselves,” said Aatami.
“They never look at us as a people with our own wish, with our own agenda, and I’m hoping with this alliance we’re creating today, this will resolve this once and for all.”
The Inuit of Nunavik and Crees of Eeyou Itschee signed the Bay James agreement in 1975, and were signatories along with the Naskapis of the Northeastern Quebec Agreement treaty of 1978, so the nations also operate in a similar legal framework.
“Although our nations have distinct respective territories, politics, language, and customs, we do hold similarities, especially when it comes to finding solutions in a reality that can only be truly understood by us,” said Chemaganish. “The intention is to work together and to have a united front to go further together and make our treaties evolve.”
Watch the full video of the signing here.