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The Agreement on Cree Nation Governance (Governance Agreement) flows from the Agreement concerning a New Relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee of 2008, which sets out a process for negotiations leading to a Cree Nation Governance Agreement and a Cree Constitution. These negotiations were completed in the autumn of 2016, and were followed by extensive consultations with the Cree beneficiaries, Cree First Nations and other interested Cree parties in Eeyou Istchee.
The Governance Agreement and the Cree Constitution have been formally approved by resolution of each of the Cree First Nations and of the Cree Nation Government. Canada also approved the Governance Agreement and authorized its signature. After the signing, the Agreement will take effect when its implementing federal legislation comes into force.
The Governance Agreement and Cree Constitution strengthen Cree self-governance on Cree community lands subject to federal jurisdiction (Category IA lands) in the context of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA), the first modern Indigenous land claim agreement and treaty in Canada. Together, they will provide the Cree with greater autonomy and flexibility in governance on these lands. The Governance Agreement will also provide long-term stability for the Cree First Nations and Cree Nation Government in financial arrangements with Canada.
In summary, the Governance Agreement will make existing governance powers and procedures more efficient on Cree Category IA lands. Arrangements regarding Cree local and regional governance on these lands subject to federal jurisdiction will be transferred from the Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act, a federal statute adopted in 1984, into the Governance Agreement and Cree Constitution. Once this Agreement takes effect, the Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act will no longer apply to the Cree beneficiaries, Cree First Nations or Category IA lands.
The Governance Agreement addresses three main subjects:
Under the Governance Agreement, the Cree First Nations will keep the same local government powers, functions and responsibilities that they have now on Cree Category IA lands. These address matters such as local government management and services, environmental protection, public order and safety, land and resource use and planning and many others. The Cree Nation Government will exercise the same powers that it now has on Cree Category IA lands concerning, for example, standards for essential sanitation and fire protection.
The Cree Constitution is an internal instrument of Cree self-governance. It starts with a short statement of key Cree values and principles. It goes on to set out arrangements regarding the exercise of the Cree right of self government in relation to the administration and internal management of the Cree First Nations and the Cree Nation Government on Cree Category IA lands.
These internal governance arrangements are currently set out in the Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act and will be transferred into the Cree Constitution. These arrangements concern subjects such as procedures for making laws and resolutions, elections, meetings and referenda, financial administration and amendment of the Cree Constitution.
An important innovation introduced by the Cree Constitution is that it removes the supervision of the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs over Cree governance on Cree Category IA lands. At present, the Cree First Nations must submit certain by-laws to the Minister for review. The Minister also has the power at present to appoint an administrator for a Cree First Nation in case of severe financial difficulty.
The Cree Constitution eliminates this external oversight, and makes the Cree First Nations and Cree Nation Government fully responsible for their self-government.
The Cree Constitution can change over time, if desired by the Cree. This is because, unlike the Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act, the Cree Constitution will not be set out in a federal law. Instead, it will be an internal instrument of Cree self-governance. It will not be approved by Canada or Québec. This means that the Cree Nation can amend their Constitution in the future, without the participation of Canada.
The Governance Agreement, the Cree Constitution and the Cree laws adopted pursuant to them will have the force of law. Together, they represent another step in implementing Cree self governance in compliance with the JBNQA. They will provide the Cree First Nations and the Cree Nation Government with important tools to assume greater autonomy and responsibility in the governance of Cree Category IA lands.
The Agreement on Cree Nation Governance and the Cree Constitution demonstrate that the Cree Nation Government and the Cree First Nations are mature governments. They are a step towards reconciliation and a respectful nation-to-nation relationship between the Cree and Canada in the spirit of the JBNQA.