Press Release after Coon Come's speech (4k)
Good afternoon. Wachiya.
First, I would like to thank Professors Raymond Breton and Henry Lee for inviting me to take part in the Canada Seminar sponsored by the Harvard Center for International Affairs and the Kennedy School of Government. It is an honour and a pleasure to be here.
Harvard University, the cities of Cambridge and Boston, and the State of Massachusetts, have a history of committed and timely engagement with human affairs around the world.
The record shows that it was that these communities were among the first to take up the torch against apartheid in South Africa.
In the early sixties in your own country, the governors and governments of some Southern states declared that certain fundamental guarantees in the U.S. Constitution simply did not apply within their states. A President from Boston, after whom this school of government was named, acted decisively to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that Black Americans in Mississippi or Alabama enjoyed the same rights as Blacks elsewhere in this land.
And in the last few years, my people the James Bay Crees called upon of the people of Massachusetts and New England to help us in our struggle to prevent the further destruction of our traditional lands by Hydro-Quebec. The support we gained from this community in defeating the Great Whale Hydroelectric Project will be remembered for years.
I am a Cree from Eeyou Astchee, which translates as the "people's land" or "our land". Others, who have recently come to the Cree Territory have decided to call it by their own names: Rupert's Land, Northern Quebec, James Bay, Nouveau Quebec, and the latest - Radissonia.
We Crees -- and the Inuit, the Naskapi, and the Innu -- are the peoples of the land bounded by the waters of the James, Hudson and Ungava Bays. We have always lived there. About 300 years ago our territory was discovered by European colonists, who without our knowledge or consent, imposed their societies and laws.
Two weeks ago the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador met in Quebec City. The Assembly represents all of the Indian Nations in Quebec. We discussed the political situation facing us in Quebec today, and in particular the emergence of a grave threat to our rights, which is both real and ongoing. The Chiefs passed a unanimous resolution regarding a particular development, which I will discuss with you today.
I must emphasize at the outset that we have no fundamental quarrel with the people of Quebec, with whose aspirations for political and cultural security we can identify. The great majority of Quebecers have shown time and again that they reject discriminatory double standards, and are not prepared to claim rights for themselves while denying them to others. We respect these Quebecers and wish to work with them. Unfortunately, however, the government of Quebec has not met this basic standard of equity and respect for fundamental rights.
The present government of the Canadian Province of Quebec is seeking, on grounds of French ethnic nationalism, to secede from Canada. And this secessionist government in Quebec states that when it secedes, it can forcibly include my people and our traditional lands, into a sovereign Quebec.
And for the fifth time in three hundred years, a government -- this time the Quebec government -- is stating that it has the right to deal with Aboriginal peoples and our traditional territories as it wishes, with or without our consent.
In the past few years, Quebec secessionist leaders have stated that their right to separate from Canada is based on a right of self-determination under international law. When faced with the issue of the Crees' competing right of self-determination as a First Nation and a people, Lucien Bouchard, now the Premier of Quebec, resorted to a blatant double standard. He simply declared that the right of self-determination belonged to the "Quebec people", but not to the Indians.
The fundamental and constitutional rights of Aboriginal peoples in Quebec are clearly a major obstacle for the secessionists. They claim that they have a historic right to determine their future on the basis of a distinct language, history, and culture. On what ground can they possibly deny, as they do, that we too have this right? The separatists claim that they have the right to choose to end their ties with Canada. On what basis can they possibly claim, as they do, that the Crees and the Inuit do not have the right to choose instead to maintain and renew our relationship with Canada?
The Quebec government has pursued an odious solution in its quest for absolute sovereignty over the corner of America they call their own. This solution is the systematic minimization and denial of our status as a people and of our Aboriginal, treaty and constitutional rights. The secessionists' double standards with regard to our rights have now reached new and disturbing depths -- so low that they challenge basis principles of decolonization and universal human rights.
In 1984, Frank Cote and a party of other Algonquin hunters were charged with breach of Quebec wildlife permit regulations while teaching their children traditional harvesting practices. This year in June, the Cote case finally reached the Supreme Court of Canada. On June 17, the secessionist government of Quebec advanced a far more disturbing position than we have seen to date.
The government of Quebec urged the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada hearing the Cote case to interpret the Royal Proclamation of 1763 so as to preclude the recognition of Aboriginal rights rather that confirm them. The Royal Proclamation has been characterized as the "Indian Bill of Rights" by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The government of Quebec also declared that the doctrine of "terra nullius", meaning land belonging to no-one, be applied throughout the province, so as to deny the existence of the Aboriginal rights of all Aboriginal peoples.
The government of Quebec also urged the Supreme Court of Canada to declare that, in regard to Aboriginal rights, Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 of Canada does not apply within the boundaries of the Province of Quebec. By way of background, Section 35 was a 1982 Amendment to the Canadian Constitution. This amendment is the one that recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
In 1982, we were told that this amendment meant that our existing Aboriginal and treaty rights were now part of the supreme law of the land, and could not be abrogated or denied by any government. Just 14 years later, the secessionist government of Quebec has taken the extreme position that these fundamental Constitutional rights -- the Aboriginal rights of the Algonquins, the Crees, the Inuit, the Huron, the Naskapi, the Mohawks and the Abenaki and all other Aboriginal peoples -- simply do not exist in Quebec, and have not existed there for 450 years. In the absence of express recognitions of Aboriginal rights by French colonial authorities, the Quebec government claimed that Aboriginal peoples in Quebec did not have any such fundamental rights.
In the words of the Chief Justice of Canada, and I quote:
"The Attorney General of Quebec took the position that the intervention of French Sovereignty [following first contact with aboriginal peoples in New France] necessarily prohibits the recognition of aboriginal title and other ancestral rights under s.35(1), within the prior geographic expanse of New France. As the respondent [government of Quebec] argued in categorical terms: ...'no aboriginal right could have survived the assertion of French sovereignty over the territory of New France'."
End of quote.
On the night of the narrow defeat of the YES option in the Quebec referendum on secession of October 1995, Jacques Parizeau, then Premier of Quebec, delivered a bitter, ethnic nationalist speech. He promised retribution for those who had voted NO to the unilateral secession of Quebec from Canada, and blamed the NO victory on "money and the ethnic vote". Some said the true colours of the Quebecois nationalists became clear for the first time; others were not prepared to criticize Mr Parizeau for off-the-cuff, racist remarks.
In contrast, the position of the Bouchard government of Quebec before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Cote case on the 17th of June this year, cannot be said to have been off-the-cuff remarks. This is the carefully considered position of the Attorney-General of Quebec, formally submitted on behalf of the government of Quebec to the highest court in Canada.
I have drawn a number of conclusions from this latest development. First: the position of the secessionist government of Quebec has now moved from policies of ethnic nationalism to those of racial discrimination.
Second: the legal positions now being taken by the secessionist government of Quebec appear to be as colonizing as at any time in North American history.
Third: the government of Quebec is now seeking to place itself in a totally dominant role vis-a-vis Aboriginal peoples in Quebec by denying the existence of our most fundamental constitutional rights. In doing so, it is contravening fundamental principles of human rights under Canadian and international law.
I realize that these are serious charges regarding the policies and positions of a provincial government in a friendly neighbouring state. Yet, if they are true, they warrant the concern and engagement of all in the international community who are concerned with equality, the rights of indigenous peoples and fundamental human rights.
Allow me a few minutes to substantiate the conclusions I have drawn. I will do so by referring to the submission made by the government of Quebec to the court in the Cote case, and the subsequent decision of the Chief Justice as expressed in that case.
In its written submission to the Supreme Court of Canada, the government of Quebec based its argument to a large degree on the colonial doctrine of "terra nullius". As you know, European colonizers asserted that when they "discovered" continents and territories overseas, these continents and territories became theirs. This was possible, they said, because these lands were "terra nullius", or land belonging to no-one.
The question asked by the indigenous societies and peoples whose lands these already were, is: What about us? We have always lived in these lands, and have governed them and ourselves for thousands of years! Well, the doctrine of terra nullius apparently had an answer for us. The colonial legal systems judged our societies to be unorganized, primitive, savage, and incapable of land tenure.
With a view to reviving this offensive doctrine, the government of Quebec told the Supreme Court of Canada that legally, New France -- now Quebec -- was "terra nullius" at the time of its "discovery" in the 16th century. In Quebec's opinion, since neither 16th century international law nor 16th century French Civil Law recognized that the Aboriginal inhabitants of Quebec had any rights, the same view must now be adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada.
This is not an entirely new issue for supreme courts around the world. In 1992, the case of Mabo v. Queensland reached the High Court of Australia. Eddie Mabo, an Australian Aborigine, died shortly afterwards, but his legacy in the area of the rights of indigenous peoples lives on. For three centuries the courts had accepted that Australia was "terra nullius" when it was discovered by the British Crown. Then in 1992, the High Court concluded that under current conceptions of human rights the doctrine of "terra nullius" could no longer be permitted to stand.
The Australian court stated, and I quote:
"A common law doctrine founded on unjust discrimination in the enjoyment of civil and political rights demands reconsideration. It is contrary to both international standards and to the fundamental values of our common law to entrench a discriminatory rule which, because of the supposed position on the scale of social organization of the indigenous inhabitants of an organized colony, denies them a right to occupy their traditional lands."
End of quote.
The historic judgement of the Australian High Court in the Mabo case was casually dismissed by the government of Quebec before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Cote case. The Mabo case did not apply, it was argued, because it was based on British internal law, not international or French Civil Law.
I am not a lawyer, but I see at least three things wrong with this argument. First, I have read the opinion of the Australian High Court in Mabo. It is clear that the Court was basing its ruling on both domestic and on universal, international human rights standards. In doing so, the Court highlighted fundamental prohibitions against racism and discrimination.
Second, during my formal studies in law, I learned that in international law there are certain prohibitions that prevail over any local laws. These norms include universal prohibitions against torture, slavery, and racial discrimination. Does the Attorney General of Quebec and the Bouchard government really believe that it is acceptable to apply a racially discriminatory doctrine within Quebec's Civil Law system, when it is contrary to universal human rights principles to do so everywhere else?
Third, the French revolution was fought on the basis of "liberty, equality and fraternity". What kind of liberty, equality and fraternity in the French Civil Law would permit the Attorney General of Quebec to state that the legal legacy of a racist and discriminatory doctrine such as "terra nullius" lives on wherever the French Civil Law once applied?
I am pleased to tell you that the Supreme Court of Canada did not accept these repugnant arguments by the government of Quebec. In fact, the Court rejected them unanimously. In the Cote decision, the Chief Justice states that if accepted, the position of the government of Quebec would (and I quote),
"create an awkward patchwork of constitutional protection for aboriginal rights across the nation... [S]uch a static and retrospective interpretation of s. 35(1) [of the Constitution Act, 1982] ... risks undermining the very purpose of s. 35(1) by perpetuating the historical injustice suffered by aboriginal peoples at the hands of colonizers who failed to respect the distinctive cultures of pre-existing aboriginal societies."
End of quote.
Therefore, the Supreme Court rejected the unfair entrenchment of a historical injustice. The Supreme Court also did not accept that in one Canadian Province -- Quebec -- Indians would have fewer or no constitutional rights as compared to Indians in all of the other Canadian provinces.
The Chief Justice of Canada completed his opinion on the position advanced by the Quebec government by adopting a key portion of the historic judgement of the Australian High Court in the Mabo case. The Chief Justice quoted Mabo as follows:
"Whatever the justification advanced in earlier days for refusing to accept the rights and interests in land of the indigenous inhabitants of settled colonies, an unjust and discriminatory doctrine of that kind can no longer be accepted."
End of quote.
I must repeat these words of the High Court of Australia, adopted with approval by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in regard the doctrine of "terra nullius": "[A]n unjust and discriminatory doctrine of that kind can no longer be accepted."
Let there be no mistake about this: the Bouchard government of Quebec has formally advocated the obliteration of the fundamental rights of Aboriginal peoples in Quebec, on the basis of the continued application of a discredited, unjust and discriminatory doctrine.
We Crees remember that the U.S. federal government acted decisively when the governors of certain Southern states insisted that the U.S. Constitution did not have equal application in their states as it did in New York or Massachusetts. I am not making or inviting comparisons of violations of the human rights of Aboriginal peoples with those suffered by Black Americans or any other group around the world. I am trying to stress that governments have a responsibility to take appropriate action when human rights violations are advocated. However in Canada there is no John Kennedy at the helm of our federal government. Rather, the government in Ottawa has shown little interest in actively opposing this discrimination and injustice, and little interest in defending our fundamental rights.
You may well state, all is well because it ended well; the Supreme Court of Canada rejected Quebec's arguments and upheld your rights.
Please recall for a moment that the secessionist government of Quebec still proposes to forcibly include my people, the James Bay Crees, and our traditional northern territory, into an independent Quebec.
Please also recall that this is the same secessionist government of Quebec that has repeatedly declared that the rulings of the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, are irrelevant in relation to Quebec secession. According to Ministers in the Quebec government, no Canadian or international court, will be permitted to govern Quebec's conduct in the event of a YES result in any future referendum on secession.
Please also remember that the October 1995 referendum on Quebec independence was almost won by the secessionists. We are concerned that if the next referendum is won by the secessionists, the Quebec government will ignore the democratically expressed will of the James Bay Crees and other Aboriginal peoples, and simply include us in a separate Quebec. This would be illegal, illegitimate, undemocratic and fundamentally wrong.
A week before the October 1995 referendum on Quebec secession, the James Bay Crees held our own referendum. My people were asked whether they consented as a people to be separated from Canada and included into an independent Quebec. Over 96% of my people voted NO, that we did not consent. The Inuit held a similar referendum, as did the Innu, or Montagnais, in five of their communities. They too voted NO in the high 90's.
There is a history behind these extraordinary referendum results. I have mentioned that at least five times in the last three hundred years, my people and our traditional territories have been handed from king to king and from sovereign to sovereign. In 1670 ownership of our lands and much of northern Canada was supposedly transferred to the Hudson's Bay Company of Gentlemen Explorers by a King Charles in 1670. In 1870, our lands were transferred back from the company to a new country. In 1898 and 1912, our lands were annexed by that country to the Province of Quebec. Not once were we asked or even told. For many decades afterwards, we were not even aware that such colonial actions had taken place.
In 1971, we learned that the government of Quebec intended to build the largest hydro-electric power project in North America in James Bay, and flood much of our land. We were told that we were squatters without rights, because according to the government our rights had been extinguished centuries before. We went to court, but before our case could be finally decided, the dams were built and our land and ancestors' graves were flooded. Our leaders decided to negotiate such protections for our status as best they could, and the result was a treaty, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975.
Under this Agreement were promised compensation, schools, social services, health care, sanitation, housing, employment and training. We were also assured that our hunters and trappers would be able to continue their traditional way of life. As with other Indian treaties, many of important commitments have not been honoured.
But it was also clearly agreed in every respect that we would have a relationship with two orders of government, federal and provincial, in a federal regime. We derive particular security from this arrangement: we have an historic relationship with the federal government. It is not a perfect or even a good relationship, however; our relationship with Ottawa is filled with difficulty and in need of profound reform.
But our elders remember that the government of Quebec, even when famine struck our people earlier this century, had failed to come to our aid. We also remember that it was a separatist government of Quebec that imposed language laws upon Aboriginal peoples in the 1970's. It sent riot police into the north to impose its French language laws, and backed down only in the face of critical international attention.
We also remember watching with horror in 1990 as a government of Quebec called in tanks and troops of the Canadian army in response to the efforts of the Mohawks near Montreal to prevent a sacred burial ground and pine forest from being turned into a municipal golf-course.
And now we note the escalating strategy of the present government of Quebec to minimize and deny us our constitutional and human rights.
So this brings us up to the present time. We live in Eeyou Astchee, within the country of Canada. Canada describes itself as a country established upon respect for "the rule of law". As Aboriginal peoples we often confront laws which are not of our making, and often do not respect our values and priorities. We confront laws which have served the interests of those who wished to dispossess us of our lands and resources and often succeeded in doing so.
But we Aboriginal peoples, who have all the reason in the world to feel cheated and ill-treated, have never nurtured a collective desire for retribution. We have never said: Europeans go home. We recognize that we all live together in this land, that we must share, and that in the end our interests are much the same. We want peace, health and wellbeing for our children. We strive for clean water and air, happiness and freedom. We insist on mutual recognition and respect for dignity, fundamental rights, and the principle of the equality of peoples.
And in spite of everything, we are not attempting to secede or to overturn the established order. We would like to be treated fairly and equitably, in genuine partnership, and with friendship.
Now separatist leaders in Quebec insist that they have been wronged; and insist, wrongly, that they have a right to secede on the basis of a right of selfdetermination. And regardless of any rights in our favour based on legitimacy, democracy or the rule of law, the separatist government in Quebec states it can forcibly include the James Bay Cree people and our territory and resources in a future independent Quebec state.
This is the threat we face and we urgently need help. We believe that we must assert our basic rights and freely determine our future and that of our children. But we are not seeking independence or to partition Quebec. We are seeking to retain and renew our relationship and association with the two other orders of government. It is Quebec separatists who seek to separate from us and from Canada, and violate the integrity of the societies and territories of Aboriginal peoples.
The federal government, required by law to protect our rights as Aboriginal peoples, has yet to acknowledge the outcome of our 96% Cree referendum vote to remain with our territory in Canada. Outside of a single federal minister who voiced the opinion that the Aboriginal peoples in Quebec have a right to stay in Canada if Quebec separates, there has been a profound silence from the federal government regarding our rights.
Meanwhile, the separatist government of Quebec and its Premier Lucien Bouchard have moved on from earlier assertions that Quebec is a "distinct society". Instead, they have started to refer to a single "Quebec People" for the purposes of self-determination and secession. Apparently, for secession purposes, all peoples in Quebec are defined by the separatists as a single "Quebec people" in spite of the objections of the peoples concerned. In this way, Premier Bouchard hopes to construct some kind of legitimate basis for this "People" to make its own choice for independence, and unilaterally include Aboriginal territories in the process.
In a further twist, the federal government has recognized the "Quebec people" as a "distinct society" in Canada. At the same time, the government of Canada refuses to acknowledge fully, at home and at the United Nations, that Aboriginal peoples in Canada are indeed "peoples" -- even though the Canadian Constitution defines us in these terms. Once again, a double standard: one status for French Canadians and other Quebecers, and another for the original peoples of this continent.
Professor Thomas Franck, Director of the Center for International Studies at the New York University School of Law recently wrote: "What justice would be served if international law were to recognize Quebec's right to secede from Canada, but no right for the Ungava native peoples' region to secede from Quebec?"
Clearly, the critical and crucial role the aboriginal peoples that have in this debate must be understood and acknowledged before there is another referendum in Quebec. It is especially important that the international and constitutional dimensions of the Aboriginal rights issue be understood and respected. As in every other case we know from history, respect for the fundamental human rights of peoples contributes to, rather than diminishes, political stability and peace.
In October 1995, we distributed copies of our in-depth legal examination of these issues, "Sovereign Injustice" to governments, academics and decision-makers world-wide. This in-depth legal analysis, which we distributed to the U.S. Congressional hearing held on Quebec secession last month, is intended to contribute to peaceful discussion not only in Canada but also abroad. We hope to bring greater understanding of the status and rights of the Crees and other Aboriginal peoples in the context of Quebec secession. Although we have sent complimentary copies of the book to every member of the Quebec National Assembly, neither the government nor the official opposition have chosen to engage with us in any meaningful debate.
This is why I am here today. This discussion, this debate must be held. Without the free and informed consent of the Aboriginal peoples, neither Canada nor Quebec may make decisions which affect our people, our territory, or our rights.
The international community -- of which you are a pre-eminent part -- has a special responsibility and role to play. This is not just an issue of redress for past injustice on this continent. This is not simply an issue of regional geo-political stability and concern. This is an issue that concerns fundamental rights. We ask you to pose the hard questions to the representatives of the governments of Canada and Quebec about our situation and their policies. We call upon you to raise your pens, your voices, and your objections against any and all violations of our rights.
Years ago President Woodrow Wilson said: "...no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property." In the same vein, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that "[i]t is making fools of people to tell them seriously that one can at one's pleasure transfer people from master to master, like herds of cattle, without consulting their interests or their wishes."
The Crees have given notice. We will not be handed from one country to another like property or cattle in a field. Those times are past.
It is in this spirit of upholding fundamental human rights that we welcome your timely engagement in the best traditions of this University, this city and this State.
Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.