Quebec Called Racist for Denying Aboriginal Rights

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The Government of Quebec is accused of racism and an odious double standard in opposing self-determination and basic rights for Aboriginal peoples, while claiming that the "Quebec people" can exercise those same rights if they choose to secede from Canada. Prior to the 1995 referendum, the Aboriginal People of Quebec voted 96% in favor of remaining in Canada. Despite this democratic vote, the province has argued that, upon separation, the Aboriginal Peoples and their lands would automatically be included in a sovereign Quebec. This attitude has a long historical precedent: for hundreds of years governments have claimed the right to deal with Aboriginal Peoples and their lands as they wished, with or without the consent of those involved. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada has recently adjudged Quebec separatists to be violating the rights of Aboriginal Peoples. Speech to the Harvard Centre for International Affairs and Kennedy School of Government, October 28.

First, I would like to thank Professors Raymond Breton and Henry Lee for inviting me to take part in the Canada Seminar sponsored by the Harvard Center for International Affairs and the Kennedy School of Government. It is an honor and a pleasure to be here.

Harvard University, the cities of Cambridge and Boston, and the State of Massachusetts, have a history of committed and timely engagement with human affairs around the world.

The record shows that it was that these communities were among the first to take up the torch against apartheid in South Africa.

In the early 60s in your own country, the governors and governments of some Southern states declared that certain fundamental guarantees in the U.S. Constitution simply did not apply within their states. A president from Boston, after whom this school of government was named, acted decisively to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that Black Americans in Mississippi or Alabama enjoyed the same rights as blacks elsewhere in this land.

And the last few years, my people the James Bay Crees called upon of the people of Massachusetts and New England to help us in our struggle to prevent the further destruction of our traditional lands by Hydro-Quebec. The support we gained from this community in defeating the Great Whale Hydroelectric Project will be remembered for years.

I am a Cree from Eeyou Astchee, which translates as the "people's land" or "our land." Others, who have recently come to the Cree Territory, have decided to call it by their own names: Rupert's Land, Northern Quebec, James Bay, Nouveau Quebec, and the latest - Radissonia.

We Crees - and the Inuit, the Naskapi, and the Innu - are the peoples of the land bounded by the waters of the James, Hudson, and Ungava Bays. We have always lived there. About 300 years ago our territory was discovered by European colonists, who without our knowledge or consent, imposed their societies and laws.

Two weeks ago the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador met in Quebec City. The Assembly represents all of the Indian Nations of Quebec. We discussed the political situation facing us in Quebec today, and in particular the emergence of a grave threat to our rights, which is both real and ongoing. The Chiefs passed a unanimous resolution regarding a particular development, which I will discuss with you today.

I must emphasize at the outset that we have no fundamental quarrel with the people of Quebec, with whose aspirations for political and cultural security we can identify. The great majority of Quebecers have shown time and again that they reject discriminatory double standards, and are not prepared to claim rights for themselves while denying them to others. We respect these Quebecers and wish to work with them. Unfortunately however, the government of Quebec has not met this basic standard of equity and respect for fundamental rights.

The present government of the Canadian Province of Quebec is seeking, on grounds of French ethnic nationalism, to secede from Canada. …