In Québec, the Cree population exceeds 20,000 and is spread out over nine villages along the shores of James Bay and Hudson Bay as well as inland. The Cree Nation belongs to the Algonquin linguistic and cultural family. Almost the entire population speaks Cree, while English is the second language of most.

Originally from the western Canadian prairies, the Crees traditionally lived in small nomadic groups and sustained themselves by hunting and fishing. In Québec, they resided in the James Bay region. As early as 1670, fur trading was a vital economic activity for the Crees.

During the 20th century, the growing presence of the federal government in James Bay, the introduction of compulsory school attendance, the construction of permanent homes and the decline of the fur trade affected the Cree way of life. In response to the James Bay hydroelectric and development projects, the Crees set up a structured political organization, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) in the 1970s.

In 1975, the Crees, the Inuit and the Québec and Canadian governments signed the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA), which recognized the rights and territorial interests of Crees and Inuits under various agreements. The JBNQA granted the Crees exclusive rights and interests in 5,544 km2 of land and exclusive hunting, fishing and trapping rights on a surface area of 69,995 km2. It also stipulated various obligations on the part of the government with regard to health and social services, education and income security, primarily through associated financing and certain compensation arrangements. The JBNQA has transformed Cree communities since it brought about the creation of several institutions and administrative organizations such as the Cree Nation Government and many businesses that have contributed to the population’s economic vitality.

However, the implementation of the JBNQA led to a series of issues, which the Gouvernement du Québec and the Cree Nation agreed to settle by signing the Paix des braves agreement in 2002, thereby laying the foundations for a new relationship.

The Paix des braves agreement led to the 2012 signing of the Agreement on Governance in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory by the Crees and the Gouvernement du Québec. This agreement stems from the desire to modernize the governance structures created by the JBNQA by introducing a new public management method for territories at the municipal and supramunicipal levels that allow for the participation of Crees and James Bay residents with a focus on shared interests.

The milestones reached under this agreement and subsequent agreements marked a turning point in relations. In 2020, the Gouvernement du Québec, the Cree Nation Government and the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) signed a Memorandum of Understanding as part of a project to boost the long-term economic development of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory. This Memorandum of Understanding, known as the Grand Alliance, calls for the implementation of a strategic infrastructure plan. The plan includes three phases that could be completed over a 30-year period, thanks to new government investments.

Last update: July 29, 2021


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