Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Speech – 2R, C-70 (Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee Governance Agreement Bill)

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise to today as critic to speak to Bill C-70, An Act to give effect to the Agreement on Cree Nation Governance between the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and the Government of Canada, to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

There is a history to this bill. In 2008, under the Honourable Chuck Strahl, then-Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Conservative government signed the agreement concerning a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, setting out a process for negotiations that would eventually lead to a Cree Nation governance agreement and a Cree Constitution. Senators, $1.4 billion was set aside as capacity development and support for the Cree who were given responsibility to administer some federal obligations for 20 years, with $200 million set aside, pending the conclusion of a Cree Nation governance agreement. That agreement was signed on July 18, 2017.

All this has led us to the bill before us today.

Currently, Cree self-governance is limited by the continued supervision of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. This bill, if passed, would enable the Cree to make laws, as opposed to the by-laws they are currently empowered to make, to govern all Cree community lands, also known as category 1A lands, while maintaining their rights to land management and determining access.

The Cree Constitution was adopted by resolution by all nine Cree communities, following extensive consultations with Cree citizens, Cree First Nations and other interested Cree parties in Eeyou Istchee. It sets 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 1A lands.

These internal governance arrangements are currently set out in the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act and will be transferred into the Cree Constitution. The arrangements cover such subjects as procedures for making laws and resolutions, elections, meetings and referenda, financial administration and amendments of the Cree Constitution.

Finally, this bill would establish more stable, long-term fiscal arrangements with Canada. As we have heard time and time again, this type of funding is necessary for proper project and program planning, and helps to ensure that valuable time and resources are spent on project implementation and program delivery as opposed to funding applications.

Colleagues, I support this bill. I support it because it is the next step to implementing Cree self-governance as outlined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern Indigenous land claim agreement and treaty in Canada, spearheaded, as we all remember from our tributes yesterday, by our own Senator Charlie Watt.

I also support this because it enshrines in law rights and powers for the Cree already granted to Inuit for Inuit-owned lands in Nunavut. The removal of federal oversight in these matters is something that Nunavut is also seeking through devolution. It is a key component of true self-government.

This bill passed all stages in the other place in one day because the belief that Indigenous people have a right to self-determination transcends political party lines, I believe. Though we may not always agree on the path, the common goal of empowering Indigenous people in Canada to become less reliant on Ottawa is one shared by many, regardless of affiliation or ideology.

Therefore, I would respectfully ask that honourable senators support sending this bill expeditiously to committee. Thank you.