The history of the Oujé-Bougoumou Crees throughout the better part of this century is a sad story of abuse, dispossession, and neglect by the combined efforts of mining and forestry companies and successive governments at both the provincial and federal levels.
Our people are the traditional inhabitants of a territory situated in northern Quebec comprised of 1000 square miles which has never been ceded, surrendered or conquered. Our traditional territory includes two non-aboriginal towns which depend almost exclusively on mining and forest industries as their economic base. Our elders retain vivid recollections of the time seventy years ago when some of the earliest mining prospectors entered our territory looking for gold and copper and how our people escorted them to show them interesting rock outcroppings. Of course, we had no idea at the time of the consequences of these people on our territory, consequences both for our people and for the land.
As the identification of mineral deposits intensified, outsiders established mining camps, settlements and towns. The discovery of economically interesting geological formations took precedence over the continued existence of Oujé-Bougoumou villages. We were threatened and coerced into abandoning our village sites which were then bulldozed and destroyed. Through collusion among the mining companies and the Quebec and Canadian governments, we were forced to relocate our villages seven times over fifty years. There was a deliberate policy in place of attempting to make us disappear.
With the last of these relocations in 1970, our people dispersed throughout our territory and established small encampments that consisted of crude, makeshift dwellings, often just simple tent frames. We believed that if our villages could be destroyed so easily at the whims of mining companies and governments, then our territory was also in jeopardy. Our feeling was that we needed to demonstrate our continuing and total occupancy of our territory so that we would not be totally dispossessed of the very basis of our community, our way of life, and our identity as Oujé-Bougoumou Eenou.
But the full force of resource development had begun to be felt. A dozen mines were operating on our land and interfering with the pursuit of our traditional way of life. Clear-cutting occurred on such a scale that a very significant portion of our trees were destroyed, and along with them, the habitat required by the animals upon which we depend.
Our living conditions were terrible. Independent observers compared them as being among the worst in the third world. The non-aboriginal settlements thrived while we, the original and permanent inhabitants of our territory, were completely isolated and marginalized from the economic and political life of the region. We estimate that approximately $4 billion (Canadian) worth of resources have been extracted without our consent or our involvement, and without any benefit to us. Our pleas were ignored.
The non-native communities based on mining and forestry were established and continued to grow and thrive, while we, the original inhabitants, had our minimal pleas for help in re-establishing our village ignored by governments. We, the original inhabitants, the stewards of the land and its resources, had, as a consequence of this perverted form of development, become completely isolated and marginalized from the economic and political life of the region.
In the early 1980′s the community decided to initiate yet more vigorous efforts to obtain government cooperation in addressing our concerns. Intensive discussions were begun with representatives of the province of Quebec in 1984, and after several years of these discussions and negotiations an agreement was reached in 1989 whereby Quebec agreed to contribute financially toward the construction of a new village, while also acknowledging a degree of local jurisdiction over a portion of the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree traditional territory. But to obtain the final agreement with Quebec required an enormous effort on the part of our community. Since Quebec was always somewhat reluctant to properly resolve the issue, our community needed to take very drastic measures to make our concerns taken seriously. In the summer of 1989 we declared our jurisdiction over the territory, blockaded the access road to the village, established our own court where we convicted the provincial and federal governments of breaching their fiduciary obligation to Oujé-Bougoumou, and we physically demonstrated our intention to occupy and govern our traditional territory. Needless to say, we got their attention. By September 1989 we concluded the agreement with Quebec.
After several false starts, a new round of negotiations began in 1990 to secure the financial participation of the federal government in the construction of a new permanent village. These negotiations were concluded when Oujé-Bougoumou and Canada signed the Oujé-Bougoumou/Canada Agreement in May 1992. Tne agreement provided the means by which Canada would contribute financially toward the construction of the Ouje-Bougomou village.
Throughout our negotiations, however, we have never relinquished our claim to jurisdiction over our territory and this remains an unresolved issue.