- Dec 2017
James Bay Agreement
The James Bay Agreement was signed by the Cree and Inuit in November 1975 and is the only “comprehensive land claim” that covers an area where provincial governments control lands and resources1. The Crees had been living and trading furs east of James Bay since the early seventeenth century. Their economy was based off of hunting, trapping, and fishing, which was regulated by dividing the land into hunting territories. By the 1960s, provincial governments gained more of a presence in the Cree territories. The Cree continued to live in their homeland despite the fact that these “white” men made most of the decisions regarding politics and the way their communities were to be run. This takeover and disregard of Aboriginal rights caused a lot of unrest and frustration for the Crees.
In April of 1971 the Québec Premier Robert Bourassa announced the James Bay project, a hydro-electric development project in northern Quebec, without the consent of the Crees or consideration of basic land rights2. Infuriated, Cree and Inuit leaders went to court and, after 71 days of testifying, successfully postponed the project. Justice Albert Malouf ruled that the hydro project posed a threat to the Cree and Inuit cultures and way of life. Unfortunately, this ruling only lasted ten days and the James Bay project proceeded. As a result of Malouf’s initial decision in favor of Aboriginal land rights, a negotiation was made to benefit the indigenous peoples. Bourassa submitted an offer in 1973 that was eventually signed in 1975 after much consideration from the indigenous. Berger explains that “Under the James Bay Agreement, the Cree and Inuit of Northern Quebec have agreed to surrender their aboriginal rights…in return for cash compensation and for a land regime that gives them specific interests in three categories of land"3. The Cree and Inuit decision to secede their land has been attributed to them having no other option or choice in the matter. It was figured that the project was going to continue whether they agreed to it or not. The indigenous peoples received some power in the Agreement but their rights were essentially “subordinate to other public priorities”1.
Most of the region attained by the James Bay Agreement became category III lands – lands that were used for development. All of the lands and resources in category III belonged to Québec, but the indigenous were able to offer their opinion in the development of these lands. They also held exclusive rights to certain species of fish and animals and were able to continue harvesting. Category II lands allowed Native harvesters to hunt, trap, and fish with no outside competition from non-indigenous. However, the Cree and Inuit did not own any of the natural resources in these lands as they belonged to the Québecers. Lastly, Category I land was land that was essentially under Native control, though Québec still had ownership of mineral and development rights. Québec effectively asserted their dominance in what was previously known as Cree territories, and were able to prioritize hydroelectric and natural resource development1. While the structure of the James Bay Agreement allowed for input about land use from the Cree and Inuit, this input could be equated to mere consultation. The James Bay Agreement did not give the indigenous peoples as much influence as promised, which has become a common pattern throughout modern treaties4.
Image: http://data2.archives.ca/e/e431/e010767693-v6.jpg Caption: James Bay celebrating initial court victory with lawyers Max Lituack and James O’Reilly.
- Paul Rynard, “Ally or Colonizer?: The Federal State, the Cree Nation and the James Bay Agreement,” Journal of Canadian Studies 36, no.2 (2001): 8-14. https://doi:10.3138/jcs.36.2.8.
- Evelyn Pinkerton, Co-Operative Management of Local Fisheries: New Directions for Improved Management and Community Development (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014), 190.
- Thomas Berger, “Native Claims,” in Northern Frontier Northern Homeland: The Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1988), 177.
- Martin Papillon and André Juneau, eds. Aboriginal Multilevel governance. (Canada: The state of the Federation, 2013. Montreal: Institute of the Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), 84.