With some 21,000 members, the Cree are among the most populous Indigenous nations in Québec. The nine Cree communities are located on the shores of James Bay (Waskaganish, Eastmain, Wemindji and Chisasibi) and Hudson Bay (Whapmagoostui), as well as inland (Nemaska, Waswanipi, Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou). Founded in 1993, the village of Oujé-Bougoumou, with its modern architecture, is a model for integrating the Indigenous way of life. Designed by architect Douglas Cardinal, it has garnered numerous international awards, including one from the United Nations.
The entire population speaks Cree, while English is the second language of most. Many members, especially young people, also speak French.
Originally from the Canadian Prairies, the Cree have inhabited the James Bay region for some 5,000 years. In the 1950s, the growing presence of the federal government, the introduction of compulsory school attendance, the construction of permanent homes and the decline of the fur trade had a major impact on the Cree way of life.
In 1971, the announcement of the construction of large hydroelectric dams in the James Bay region mobilized the Cree Nation. In 1975, following negotiations with the Québec and Canadian governments, the Cree and the Inuit signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). The assumption of governmental obligations by the Cree under the JBNQA allowed them to adapt them to their realities in various areas, including:
Land, which is for their exclusive use and benefit
Hunting, fishing and trapping rights
Participation in the structuring of environmental assessments for development projects within their territory
A range of services, such as:
Health and social services
Administration of justice
A number of organizations were then created, including the Cree Nation Government, the Cree School Board and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.
The Cree Nation therefore has more autonomy and operates within a different legal framework than the other First Nations, as it is no longer subject to the Indian Act.
Signed in 2002, the Agreement Concerning a New Relationship Between le Gouvernement du Québec and the Crees of Québec, commonly referred to as the “Paix des Braves” agreement, is guided by mutual respect, greater accountability and the Cree’s increased participation in the continued development of the territory. The agreement is based on partnership and collaboration in the development of its forestry, mining and hydroelectric potential, and provides for a share of the resulting revenue.
In 2012, the Cree signed the Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory, which is founded on cooperation among all residents of this vast territory, another key milestone in the evolving relationship between Québec and the Cree Nation.
The Cree Nation experienced major economic growth following the signing of the JBNQA, which led to the creation of several businesses. In 1982, the Cree founded the Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company (CREECO), which manages several enterprises, including the Cree Construction and Development Company, a leader in the construction industry in Québec. Another company, Air Creebec, also owned by the Cree, connects the James Bay territory and Northern Ontario to Montréal and Val-d’Or. Cree communities also boast a number of community enterprises and private companies.