James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

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The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was an Aboriginal land claim settlement, approved in 1975 by the Cree and Inuit of northern Quebec, and later slightly modified in 1978 by the Northeastern Quebec Agreement, through which Quebec's Naskapi First Nations joined the treaty. The agreement covered economic development and property issues in northern Quebec, as well as establishing a number of cultural, social and governmental institutions for Aboriginals who are members of the communities involved in the treaties.


Northern Quebec (territory covered by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975)

Before the foundation of Canada, the lands of northern Quebec had been a part of Rupert's Land - the territory administered by the Hudson's Bay Company as part of the charter it received from King Charles II in 1670. In 1870, all of Rupert's Land was ceded to Canada, and in 1895 the region between the province of Quebec and the Hudson Strait became the District of Ungava of the Northwest Territories. In 1898, the border of Quebec was extended north to the Eastmain River. Quebec continued to claim the remaining District of Ungava, north of the Eastmain River, and in 1912 the area was transferred to Quebec, subject to the condition that a treaty be negotiated with the native peoples of the region recognising their cultural rights and surrendering their title to the land to Quebec and Canada. There was at the time no pre-existing treaty covering that area. The government of Quebec did not immediately undertake such negotiations.

In the 1960s, Quebec began developing potential hydroelectric resources in the north, and in 1971 created the James Bay Development Corporation to pursue the development of mining, forestry and other potential resources starting with the James Bay Hydroelectric Project. This massive undertaking, which had been directed by an increasingly assertive government of Quebec without consulting native people, was opposed by most of northern Quebec's Cree and Inuit. The Quebec Association of Indians - an ad hoc representative body of native northern Quebecers - sued the government and, on 15 November 1973, won an injunction in the Quebec Superior Court blocking hydroelectric development until the province had negotiated an agreement with the natives.

This judgment was overruled by the Quebec Court of Appeal seven days later, after the government's efforts to quickly negotiate an agreement failed. Nonetheless, the legal requirement that Quebec negotiate a treaty covering the territory had not been overturned, even though construction continued.

Over the course of the next year, the government of Quebec negotiated the required accord. On 15 November 1974 – exactly a year after the Superior Court decision – an agreement-in-principle was signed between the governments of Canada, Quebec, publicly owned Hydro-Québec, the Grand Council of the Crees, headed by Billy Diamond, and the Northern Quebec Inuit Association. [1] The final accord - the James Bay And Northern Quebec Agreement (in French: La Convention de la Baie James et du Nord québécois) - was signed on 11 November 1975. This convention originally only covered claims made by Quebec Cree Indians and Inuit, however, on 31 January 1978, the Naskapi Indians of Quebec signed a parallel agreement - the Northeastern Quebec Agreement - and joined the institutions established under the 1975 accord.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement has been further modified by some 20 additional accords affecting the implementation and details of the original agreement, as well as expanding their provisions. Furthermore, the Constitution Act, 1982 entrenched in the Constitution of Canada all the rights granted in native treaties and land claims agreements enacted before 1982, giving the rights outlined in the original agreement the status of constitutional rights.


The James Bay agreement touches on a number of subjects and, as the first Canadian native treaty since the 1920s, it bears little resemblance to previous treaties but has become the prototype of the many agreements made since then. It established a number of provisions, principally in the following areas:

  • Lands
The traditional lands of the signatories are divided into three categories:
Category I: Lands reserved exclusively for the use of native Quebecers.
Category II: Lands owned by the Crown-in-right-of-Quebec, but in which hunting, fishing and trapping rights are reserved for natives and over which forestry, mining and tourism development authority is shared.
Category III: Lands in which some specific hunting and harvesting rights are reserved for natives, but all other rights are shared subject to a joint regulatory scheme.
Roughly 14,000 km2 fall into Category I, 150,929 km2 in Category II, and 908,000 km2 - almost 60 percent all land in Quebec - in Category III.
  • Environmental and Social Protections
The accord provides for two consultative committees composed of native and government officials, to advise the government on the environmental and social consequences of policies. Below the 55th latitude, the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment has this responsibility, while in Nunavik, which includes all territories north of the 55th latitude, it belongs to the Kativik Environmental Advisory Committee. The accord also established a system of environmental evaluation for new development projects involving the oversight of both the governments of Canada and Quebec as well as the Cree Regional Authority and the Kativik Regional Government.
  • Economic development and financial compensation
In return for their signatures, the governments of Quebec and Canada and Hydro-Quebec agreed to provide northern Quebec natives with extensive direct financial compensation - some CAN$225 million to be managed and used for native economic development through three native-owned development corporations: The Cree Board of Compensation, the Makivik Corporation and the Naskapi Development Corporation.
  • Education
The agreement provided for the establishment of the Cree School Board for Cree villages, the Kativik School Board for the residents of Northern villages, who are mostly Inuit, and a special school for Naskapi students of Kawawachikamach. The use of native languages for instruction in schools is explicitly encouraged.
  • Local government
Cree communities in Quebec were established as Cree villages (municipalities) and Inuit communities of Nunavik were established as Northern villages with universal suffrage for Inuit and non-Inuit residents. In addition, the Cree Regional Authority was established to provide regional government for the Quebec Cree and the Kativik Regional Government was established to provide regional government for the residents of Nunavik (with the exception of the Cree village of Whapmagoostui which is governed by the Cree Regional Authority).
  • Health and Social Services
Responsibility for health and social services in Cree communities is the responsibility of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. In Nunavik, these services are provided by the Kativik Health and Social Services Council.


  1. ^ "Billy Diamond". Power To Change. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-02-03. I became chief of our Cree community when I was 21. ... Four years later I became the first Grand Chief of the Cree Grand Council. I used this position to help my people develop. We modernized the villages, built housing and schools and encouraged health and economic development. I was very successful in this position. But like all successes, it had it's [sic] drawbacks, especially in my personal life. 


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