The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) was signed on November 11, 1975. It was the first major comprehensive land claims agreement in Canada, heralding in a new era in aboriginal land claims.
In 1971, the Government of Quebec announced the “project of the century” – the James Bay Hydroelectric Development Project. The scope of the project meant that lands historically occupied and used for hunting and fishing by Inuit and Cree would be flooded by the creation of massive resevoirs, and rivers diverted. Construction began however the rights of the Inuit and Cree who lived in northern James Bay and northern Quebec were ignored.
A young Charlie Watt assembled a group of Inuit and created the Northern Quebec Inuit Association (NQIA). Joining forces with the Quebec Association of Indians, they applied to the Quebec Superior Court in 1972 for an injunction to stop the project. The ruling in their favour was quickly overturned. However events had been unleashed leading to an out of court settlement which was the historic JBNQA.
Signatories to the JBNQA include the Government of Quebec, the James Bay Energy Corporation, the James Bay Development Corporation, Hydro-Québec, the Grand Council of the Crees (of Quebec), the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, and the Government of Canada.
The JBNQA provided $225-million in compensation to the James Bay Cree and the Inuit of Northern Quebec, to be paid by Canada and Quebec. Compensation funding for the Cree was paid to the Cree Regional Authority and for the Inuit it was paid to Makivik Corporation. Inuit received $90-million.
In addition to settling native land claims and providing financial compensation, the agreements defined aboriginal rights and established regimes for future relations between aboriginal peoples and non aboriginals in the region and among local, regional, provincial and federal governments. Harvesting rights were provided, land categories set out and resource management regimes set up. School boards were created, health services were restructured and regional governments were established.
This foundation has led to achieving other important agreements including the Sanarrutik Partnership Agreement and the Peace of the Brave (the Paix des Braves), both massive economic development agreements making Inuit and Cree partners in decision making and sharing of benefits.
To mark the 40th Anniversary of the JBNQA Makivik produced a documentary film featuring most of the original signatories called “Napangunnaqullusi: So That You Can Stand”. The film provides a behind-the-scenes perspective to the negotiations, and provides an important perspective for Nunavik youth to understand what leaders such as Charlie Watt, Zebedee Nungak, the late Mark R. Gordon, along with the Inuit team of negotiators, and the entire Nunavik region went through at the time.