[Documents menu] documents menu Date: Mon, 6 Apr 98 11:20:38 CDT
From: SISIS@envirolink.org (S.I.S.I.S.)
Subject: Quebec offers "unprecedented self-government"
Article: 31735
Message-ID: <bulk.12955.19980407181527@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Quebec Offers Natives New Political Deal

By Rheal Seguin, in the Globe and Mail, pg. A1, 3 April 1998

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Quebec - The provincial government is inviting Quebec's 11 aboriginal bands to define a structure of self-government that could include sending representatives to the province's legislature. Unprecedented both in its scope and in its ramifications, the new strategy aims at breaking the mistrust that has often existed between the Quebec government and native communities. It is outlined in a document written by the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry and released yesterday by minister Guy Chevrette.

The document includes a framework for negotiations on giving taxation powers to native communities as well as possibly letting them share in revenues from new projects in areas such as hydro-electricity, mining and forestry. "We are proposing a partnership that will guarantee native communities a stable and regular source of financing," Mr. Chevrette said. He said that at a meeting last Friday more than 50 of the province's 60 native leaders showed a willingness to open negotiations. Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec, welcomed the province's move yesterday but warned that the process of negotiation would be long. He said each of the 11 native bands has different issues and ,"in most cases, the reality is that the federal government will have to be involved."

He said the approach should be viewed not as a magic solution but as an "evolution of the relationship that has been evolving at an administrative level." Romeo Saganash, a spokesman for the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, took a similar wait-and-see attitude but also expressed one grave reservation. "I counted no fewer than seven references in the documents to the territorial integrity of Quebec. They talk about it almost obsessively, so I am worried that this might over-shadow the more positive elements," he said. While the strategy signals a new openness towards natives, the documents say two fundamental principles would have to be respected: Both Quebec's territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the Quebec National Assembly over that territory would remain intact.

Creating an aboriginal political structure with legislative powers is the key component of the new strategy. The type of political forum and its powers would be negotiable, but Mr. Chevrette said that current treaties, rights and unsettled land claims would not be undermined. The 11 bands have been asked to appoint representatives to a joint commission with members of the Quebec government to immediately begin defining the political structure.

"I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the talks," Mr. Chevrette said during an interview yesterday. "But just for the sake of discussion, let me give you some theoretical examples. We could have an assembly of the 11 nations where the assembly could delegate members to the National Assembly..."The forum could be one that resembles a [native] legislative assembly or senatorial type of structure, I'm not sure. I don't want to presume what the outcome will be, because I don't want to anger anyone. We have to build this together." Mr. Chevrette said that in 1985 the legislature adopted a motion tabled by then premier Rene Levesque to recognize aboriginal people as nations. As such, Mr. Chevrette said, they should be able to exercise their rights within their own political structure.

The self-government offer would give native communities the option of having their own taxation powers in return for the elimination of the current tax-exemption policy for status Indians living on reserves. All taxes paid by natives on and off reserves and by non-aboriginal people on reserves would go to aboriginal communities. Furthermore, the government has proposed to amend Quebec laws to conform with the traditional native ways of life. For instance, provincial conservation laws that ban hunting and fishing during certain periods of the year would be changed to conform with the needs of native communities.

The government has offered to create a $125 million fund for community projects to be spent over five years, with an invitation to Ottawa to contribute the same amount. The money would help fund urgent community infrastructure projects such as roads, sewers or day-care centres. It would also be used to start businesses and create jobs in many of the poorer communities. Quebec spends $350 million a year in native communities, including $100 million from Ottawa. About 80 percent of the money is spent on projects in Northern Quebec's Cree, Naskapi and Inuit territories, where there are a total of 24 communities for which the James Bay Agreement gives the Quebec government financial responsibilities. The document says that the special fund must be created to eliminate the disparities between native communities.

It also says that Quebec has accepted the principle that developing natural resources in co-operation with the aboriginal bands, meaning that natives would have to be partners in hydroelectric projects such as Great Whale or Churchill Falls. Guarantees of profit sharing and recognition of native ownership over the land and resources would have to be included in any new development, Mr. Chevrette said. "I've been in politics for 21 years and I share the same sensitivities Mr. Levesque expressed when he was premier, that we have to stop talking and do something," Mr. Chevrette said. In mid May, Quebec will host a federal-provincial conference of native-affairs ministers where the issues in Quebec's strategy document will be raised.

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