Billy Diamond, politician, businessman (born on 17 May 1949 in Rupert House [now Cree Nation of Waskaganish], QC; died on 30 September 2010 in Waskaganish, QC). A leading figure in Indigenous politics of the James Bay region of Quebec, he was a prime mover and signator of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. He was also a chairman of the James Bay Cree school board and president of Air Creebec.
Early Life and Education
When he was seven years old, Diamond was sent to residential school in Moose Factory, Ontario. There, he was forced to cut his hair and speak English instead of Cree. Diamond described his experiences at that residential school as destructive to “my foundation years and my identity and my sense of belonging.”
Diamond spent his high school years at Shingwauk residential school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It was there that he honed his leadership and public-speaking skills. Along with several other First Nations students, Diamond created the Indian Student Association at the school, and was elected to the Executive Committee of the association. He was also its newsletter editor.
As founding member and grand chief of the Grand Council of the Cree of Quebec (1974-84), he was a prime mover and signator of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement on behalf of his people. Diamond was also chairman of the Cree Regional Authority (established 1975), which administers the implementation of the agreement in relation to land, economic development and social services.
From 1980-83, Diamond was involved in Canadian Constitutional negotiations, and successfully fought for the inclusion of sections 25 and 35, which enshrine Indigenous rights. (See also Constitution Act, 1982.)
Did You Know?
On 10 November 2020, a day before the 45th anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, the National Assembly of Quebec passed a motion to rename the James Bay Highway in Northern Quebec to the Route Billy-Diamond Highway.
Billy Diamond was involved in a wide variety of local services, businesses and political activities. He was chairman of the Cree school board (established in 1975) and president of Air Creebec (established in 1982). (See also Education of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
Honours and Awards
In 1986, Billy Diamond was awarded the National Order of Quebec. He also received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire Award) in 1997 for his work in business and commerce.