Oujé-Bougoumou is Eeyou Istchee’s newest community and is located on the shores of Lake Opemiska. Our history is one of many forced relocations. The people of our community finally gained recognition by the government in 1989 and we were given land to construct a new permanent village.
STANDING OUR GROUND
Our people live on lands covering some 2,600 square kilometres located in Northern Quebec. Our lands have never been ceded, surrendered or conquered. Our traditional territory includes two non-aboriginal towns whose economy relies on the mining and forest industries.
Our elders vividly recall a time seven decades ago when the earliest mining prospectors arrived looking for gold and copper; obligingly, our people guided them to rock outcroppings of interest. We did not foresee what impact these visitors would have on our people and our land.
As the task of identifying mineral deposits intensified, outsiders established mining camps, settlements, and towns. The discovery of geological formations of economic value took precedence over the well-being and, even, survival of Oujé-Bougoumou communities. We were compelled to abandon our communities, which were then bulldozed and destroyed.
As a result of concerted action by mining companies and the provincial and federal governments – which were deliberate
attempts to dissolve our communities – we were forced to relocate seven times over the course of fifty years.
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 little more than simple tent frames. We believed that if our villages could so easily be destroyed by mining companies and governments, then our territory, too, was in jeopardy.
It was clear that we needed to demonstrate our continuing and total occupation of our own territory so that we would not be dispossessed of our land, our way of life, and our identity as Oujé-Bougoumou Eenou.
Together, in the spirit of mutual respect and honour, we made a commitment to be strong and to help one another get back up when we fall.
The full force of resource development, had, by this time, become apparent. A dozen mines were operating on our land and interfering with the pursuit of our traditional way of life. Clear-cutting occurred on so large a scale that a very significant portion of our trees were destroyed, and along with them, the habitat of the animals on which we depended.
Our living conditions were abysmal, with independent observers comparing them to the worst conditions of the world’s poorest countries. As the non-native communities based on mining and forestry continued to grow and thrive, our appeals for help in restoring our sites was ignored by governments. As a consequence of exploitative development, we – the stewards of the land and its resources – had become completely isolated and marginalized from the economic and political life of the region. We estimate that approximately four billion Canadian dollars’ worth of resources were extracted without our consent or involvement, and without any benefit to us. Our pleas in this regard were ignored.
In the early 1980s, our community decided to initiate more vigorous efforts to compel governments to address our situation. In 1984, intensive discussions with government of Quebec representatives were launched. After extensive deliberation and negotiation, we reached an agreement in 1989 whereby Quebec would contribute financially toward the construction of a new village and acknowledge our jurisdiction over a portion of the traditional territory of the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree.
To achieve a final agreement with Quebec had cost our community enormous efforts. Faced with the provincial government’s reluctance to resolve our concerns, we had to resort to drastic measures to be taken seriously. In summer 1989, we declared our jurisdiction over the
territory, blockaded the access road to the village, and established our own court (which found the provincial and federal governments in breach of their fiduciary obligation to Oujé-Bougoumou). In sum, we demonstrated our intention to occupy and govern our traditional territory. These actions helped achieve the desired results, and by September 1989 we concluded our agreement with the government of Quebec.
In 1990, negotiations with the federal government were launched in an effort to secure its financial participation in building a new permanent village for our community. This process resulted in the Oujé-Bougoumou-Canada Agreement of May 1992, which called for the Government of Canada to provide funding toward the construction of the village of Oujé-Bougoumou. This Agreement not only provided for funding for construction but also a process for incorporating the community into the JBNQA. The signing of this Agreement is considered a key milestone in the history of the Eeyou of Eeyou Istchee.
At no point during or following the negotiations did we relinquish our jurisdiction over our territory.
a bright future
Our new community is the fulfillment of the dream of our elders. To have a permanent home and to see Oujé-Bougoumou take its rightful place in the life of Eeyou Istchee is something we have been working very long and very hard to achieve.
Our elders chose this site on the shore of Lake Opemiska as a place where we could build our future. And since 1992, we have doing just that: living in harmony with nature, respecting and preserving our land, and caring for our families and our new-found friends in a balanced lifestyle of traditional and contemporary culture.
The place we call home is more than just a geographic location. Our knowledge systems are inherently tied to the land and places where ceremonies are held, animals are hunted, plants are gathered and stories are told.
Our land is uniquely beautiful. In the summer, a fresh scent of spruce, tamarack, and mountain berries fills the air. In the winter the crisp air and pure white snow create a still, awe-inspiring paradise.
Sharing is at the heart of the Ouje-Bougoumou way of life. We share the bounty of our hunting and fishing, to share our way of life, and to spend time with us in what we know will be an unforgettable experience. We welcome you to join us here in the “place where people gather.”