James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement
The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement of 1975 was the first major agreement between the Crown and the Indigenous people in Canada since the numbered treaties of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This agreement was negotiated from 1973 to 1975 following decisions by Judge Malouf, and one week later, the Court of Appeals. The agreement was signed on 11 November 1975, after four years of negotiations, court cases and bargaining following the 1971 announcement of plans to build a system of hydroelectric dams in northern Québec (see James Bay Project). The Aboriginal people exchanged their rights and territorial interests for different rights and benefits specified in the agreements. The Cree whose lands were at the centre of the proposed project and the Inuit further north agreed to joint management of wildlife with the governments of Québec and Canada. In 1978, the agreement was amended after the Naskapi First Nations joined the accord through the Northeastern Québec Agreement.
Aboriginal people insisted on special membership criteria (redefining Inuit and Cree status), control over local and regional governments, the creation of their own health and school boards, measures for economic and community development, special regimes for police and justice and environmental protection. They obtained technical definition of the La Grande Project including relocation of the first dam, limitations on water levels and a remedial works corporation for social and environmental damages. Compensation of $225 million was divided between the Cree and Inuit and paid over 20 years. The Naskapi received $9 million (including $1 310 010 from the Government of Canada) under the Northeastern Québec Agreement.
The lands were divided into three categories: category I included 14 000 km2 in and around Aboriginal communities to be controlled solely by residents; category II referred to crown land shared with the Cree (70 000 km2) and the Inuit (81 600 km2), exclusively as hunting, fishing and trapping territories; and 1 000 000 km2 in the remaining category III, approximately two-thirds of the surface area of Québec, were designated for the exclusive rights of Aboriginal people to use for traditional hunting and harvesting. For the Cree, provision was made for a minimum family-income plan for wildlife harvesting. The right to teach using native languages and in English and French was secured, and in Québec the James Bay Native Development Corporation was established to encourage Cree economic development.
The dynamic and complex nature of the agreement is evidenced by seven amending agreements, four additional agreements and 22 pieces of related legislation. The rights of the Aboriginal people in the agreement were protected by the Constitution Act, 1982. In 1984 the promise of self-government for the Cree was realized when Parliament enacted the Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act, the first of its kind in Canada.
The agreement was a source of controversy between Aboriginal people and the federal and provincial governments. In particular, Aboriginal groups claimed that although there were basic breaches in the agreement, it secured the permanent Canadian status of the whole James Bay Territory against any attempt by Québec to separate from Canada.