Over the past fifty years, I worked with Peter W. Hutchins for the recognition, protection and continuity of the rights of the Eeyou Istchee.
As a lawyer, Peter W. Hutchins was dedicated and passionate with strengths of judgment, perspective, fairness and perseverance. And I know Peter had compassion for his Cree clients.
As an individual, Peter was much more than a lawyer to me. He was a close friend and confidante. I had many wonderful times and I cherish my memories of our friendship.
In 1971, upon learning about a new, gigantic hydroelectric development project scheduled for construction in the Cree territories, the Cree Chiefs and leaders of James Bay held their first-ever meeting in Mistissini to discuss the proposed project. We needed to organize to face this new challenge as the Eeyou had not been consulted about this project.
The planned project would pose serious environmental and social impacts for us. The governments of Canada and Quebec and Hydro-Québec ignored us and denied our rights. We decided to oppose the gigantic $6 billion hydroelectric development project which would flood valuable hunting territories of the Cree people. Hence, in 1971, we commenced our journey for social justice.
It was very difficult to find suitable and willing legal counsel at the beginning of our journey. In the early 1970s, Peter W. Hutchins was a young lawyer, who with James O’Reilly, Jacques Beaudoin and Monique Caron, was willing to act as legal counsel in our court cases and subsequent negotiations to protect our land, rights and way of life.
The initial court case resulted with the Malouf decision, which recognized our rights to our land: Eeyou Istchee.
Peter served as legal counsel in the subsequent negotiations regarding hunting and fishing rights, social and environmental protection, land rights and regime, governance and the Cree Hunters Income Security Program.
On November 11, 1975, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, a modern treaty that recognizes and protects our rights, was signed by the Government of Canada, Government of Quebec and Native representatives. I am one of the Cree signatories.
Then Peter assisted in the pursuit of the proper implementation of the treaty.
From 1975 to 1984, Peter and I were involved in the discussions and negotiations with the Government of Canada for the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act which provides for and recognizes the right of Cree self-government. In addition, the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act terminated the application of the Indian Act for the Cree and Naskapi First Nations in the territory.
From 1975 to 1999, Peter and I took part in discussions and negotiations with Canada and the United States in amending the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention which prohibited the harvesting of migratory birds in the spring and summer. The negotiations successfully resulted in the 1999 Protocol to Amend the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention, which was signed by Canada and the US. The amendment recognizes the right of Aboriginal people to harvest migratory birds throughout the year.
I know that Peter W. Hutchins was involved in other litigations and negotiations for other Aboriginal peoples as well.
The Cree people of Eeyou Istchee have been through many difficult times and challenges and emerged from them stronger as individuals, families, communities, and as a people and nation.
We have restored our cultural integrity, historical identity and self-governing status. And we have determined and taken our rightful place in Canadian society as Eeyou/Eenou of Eeyou Istchee.
I thank Peter William Hutchins for his invaluable contributions to the Cree people and Nation of Eeyou Istchee during this amazing journey over the past 50 years.
Dr. Philip Awashish