National Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come
Matthew Coon Come is currently the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and former grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec.
Nation: I see that you are putting your support behind the Agreement. What
do you like about it?
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come: Iíve been chief and the Grand Chief for
most of those years and the Coon Come case that dealt with obligations of
the federal and provincial governments, the forestry court cases and the
court case we launched against the technical description of the La Grande
project of 1975 where we said it required Cree consent and the projects
couldnít go through. When we went to the communities and I was the one
who explained the court cases on forestry, Great Whale and NBR, on the
outstanding and unfulfilled obligations of the federal and provincial
governments we told the people the reason we were going to court was
because the governments felt they fulfilled their obligations and they
didnít feel they needed to sit down with us and talk. Our strategy was
to use the legal system so the courts would recognize the unfulfilled
obligations of the governments. We knew the courts wouldnít say this is
how much you should get but that it would have to be negotiated. All the
cases were to say you needed Cree consent and involvement. That was the
message. We needed to convey the message that we want a share of the
resources extracted from Cree land. Thatís the background.
Agreement in Principle, as outlined to me, shows that Grand Chief Ted
Moses has taken the initiative and the timing was right. I must commend
him for his efforts. The same with Premier Laundry for realizing that he
has to involve the Crees. Certainly the Agreement from the outset provides
some form of resource revenue sharing and it looks at employment
opportunities. It deals with issues we have all been talking about. That
we want to participate in the economy. I remember a person told me and
said one truckload of forestry logs is worth $100,000 and not a penny goes
to us. That told me they want a share in the resource extraction. I think
some of the principles are there.
of the greatest challenges for leaders is that they have to know when to
fight and you have to know when to sign a deal. I think that Ted signed at
the right time. Now itís up to the Cree people to give their decision on
whether they will accept it or not.
of us will have to assess it in terms of our previous involvement in
previous projects. When I was involved between 1987 and 1995 in opposition
to projects where they were going to flood eight rivers, now because of
the Rupertís and Eastmain rivers, they are talking about maybe just one
project. It is still subject to environmental impact assessment. Weíll
have an opportunity to look at resource development.
my view itís like a hunter. He will go out and look for game. He will
not come back and say I think I saw some caribou and maybe I should ask
you. He will shoot it and ask his people to help him. He will say to the
people this is what I got. He will say there are more out there, can you
come and help me? So Ted has brought something and as a leader will say
this is what I was able to get, now you decide.
a leader you have to take a position, are you for this agreement or
against it. As a leader Ted is certainly promoting it saying this is what
I got and I agree in principle. Itís the same journey in the past when
negotiations were done. Then Grand Chief Billy Diamond, Philip Awashish
and Ted Moses, they went and sat down with the government and came back
and said this is what we have. They went through a process of
consultations, information meetings and debates. Then the Cree People
voted on whether or not to accept the JBNQA.
Reprinted with permission of The Nation
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