This paper examines regional development in northern Quebec, Canada, with a focus on the James Bay Cree, and makes some preliminary comparisons with the Australian Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. The relationship between economic development and emergent regional Aboriginal governments is a central concern. The paper compares political, juridical, constitutional and cultural factors affecting the organisational and economic resources available to Aboriginal people in the two countries.
Even before the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement the Cree have enjoyed relative affluence when compared to most Aboriginal people in Canada or in Australia. With rapid growth in the Cree workforce, subsistence production is a stable but proportionally declining contributor to incomes, while heavily subsidised growth in Cree-controlled public administration and social services, and accelerated entrepreneurial development, have been necessary to avert real economic hardship. This growth has required constant vigilance and lobbying by the Cree, who encounter substantial provincial and federal government resistance to honouring some sections of their Aboriginal claims settlement. Their efforts have not prevented increased unemployment and declines in mean incomes in recent years. But without regional self-government, the Cree would have fared much worse, and their chances of meeting the very substantial demographic, environmental, and economic challenges of current and coming decades would be even more tenuous.
This author's impression is that initiatives in Australia are to a greater extent driven by central government policy than in Canada, where Aboriginal organisations, like those in northern Quebec, have put state authorities on the defensive in defining policy and constitutional agendas. There are, however, a number of parallel trends in self-government mobilisation by Australian Aborigines, particularly in the central and northern regions. Regional organisations are assuming a more holistic range of functions of governance, while consolidating Aboriginal control of resources, and are beginning to exploit the attendant possibilities for internal linkages in regional Aboriginal economies.
ISBN: 0 7315 1431 9