Accepted Paper:

On the unfinished character of treaty-making: reflections on the experience of the Crees of Aeyou Istchee (Eastern James Bay)  


Colin Scott (McGill University)

Paper short abstract:

A review of four decades of treaty-making by Eeyou Istchee Crees pursuant to their original James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975) suggests important lessons about the interplay of organization-building, legal agreement and the exercize of power on a northern resource extractive frontier.

Paper long abstract:

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA; 1975) is remarkable, less for being the first comprehensive claims settlement of late 20th century Canada, than for the series of many subsequent treaties to which it seems to have opened doors for the Crees of Eeyou Istchee. Notwithstanding JBNQA terms ostensibly committing Crees to "cede, release, surrender and convey all their Native claims, rights, titles and interests… in Quebec," the Grand Council of the Crees has gone on to sign numerous 'complementary' treaties, consolidating greater and greater recognition of proprietary and governmental rights throughout their traditional territory, including rights to share revenues from 'natural resources' flowing from their territory. Meanwhile, most of the Crees' indigenous neighbours on adjacent territories, including some nations with unextinguished aboriginal title and others with 'historical' treaties dating to the early 20th century, struggle with conditions of relative poverty and disempowerment. What accounts for such dramatic differences among groups occupying theoretically similar legal and constitutional spaces? Is the JBNQA a model to be emulated, to be avoided, or too anomalous to be reproduced? To what factors are owed both the transformative and the disabling potentialities of treaties as instruments of empowerment or disempowerment?

Panel LL-NAS04
Living together with the land: reaching and honouring treaties with Indigenous Peoples