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Cree leaders jailed in protest over power deal

WASKAGANISH, Quebec ? The majority of the James Bay Cree may have voted to support a new hydroelectric power deal, but opposition to the agreement has remained vehemently disparate.

A Cree tribal member heckling Cree Grand Chief Ted Moses and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry interrupted the ceremonial signing of the agreement, which took place in the Cree community of Waskaganish on Feb. 7.

Tribal police forcibly subdued Cree Chief Henry Diamond as the two leaders were about to sign the historic nation-to-nation agreement. Witnesses to the disturbance report that Chief Diamond was taken down by about seven police officers. He is also said to have been bleeding from the head before he was allowed to stand up and taken to jail. Chief Diamond, it should be noted, is an elderly gentleman.

Chief Diamond was charged for allegedly disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.

Chisasibi Band Councilor Larry House was also arrested after attempting to attend the press conference following the signing ceremony. House was denied entry and was taken into custody after voicing his objections.

House was arrested under a local by-law concerning mischief for allegedly shoving a police officer. He was charged for impeding pedestrian traffic and fined $25.

These events contrary to the portrayal of opposition to the agreement in much of the Canadian media.

The 70 percent overall support of the agreement in the Cree territory does not tell the whole story.

Reverence Rupert, a coalition opposed to the deal, has called for province-wide consultations.

"There is more to lose than to gain in this agreement corrupted by the sacrifice of one of the last great virgin rivers of the Earth," the group said in a recent statement. The Rupert River is a candidate for development under the new agreement.

Landry spoke of a "new era of co-operation and a real nation-to-nation relationship between the Cree and Quebec." Contempt and an endless stream of litigation have historically marred Cree-Quebec relations, with the Cree arguing Quebec has failed to fulfill its treaty obligations to them.

Other Native leaders in Canada are behind the agreement.

"I congratulate Premier Landry for his vision and willingness to work with Grand Chief Moses to correct this historical injustice by ensuring the Crees are an important part of the economic development of their traditional territory," said Matthew Coon Come, head of the Assembly of First Nations, in a published statement. "I also congratulate Grand Chief Moses for his part in the fight to defend Cree rights."

Coon Come added that the federal government should use the Cree settlement as a model for future deals with native communities.