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For Eddie Pachano, there is the hope he'll no longer have to share a home with seven other people because of the housing crunch in Chisasibi.

For the villagers of Whapmagoostui, there is the hope of better sewers, a paved road and a harbour to shelter trappers when James Bay gets rough.

For the Crees of Washaw Sibi, it means a chance to be officially recognized and become eligible for basic housing and medical benefits.

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In a historic step in federal-native relations, Ottawa has reached a $1.4-billion settlement with the Crees of Quebec, ending three decades of complaints that the government hadn't lived up to its treaty obligations.

The deal also sets the stage for the creation of a Cree constitution, and future talks on regional self-government for the 16,700 Crees - most of whom live on the east coast of James and Hudson Bays.

"This agreement sets us up in a nation-to-nation relationship," Matthew Mukash, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, said yesterday.

Federal negotiator Raymond Chrétien said the agreement settles grievances from the past 30 years but also deals with governance issues for the next 20 years.

The deal suspends three Cree lawsuits that accuse Ottawa of failing to deliver all benefits promised in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Canada's first modern land-claim treaty, the James Bay agreement provided $225-million to the Crees and Inuit in return for allowing hydroelectric projects to be placed in sub-Arctic Quebec.

"This agreement restores my faith in the value of the negotiation table," said former grand chief Matthew Coon Come, who initiated the lawsuits.

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"This is a historic day. It beats blockading railways," said Chief Billy Diamond, who negotiated the original James Bay agreement, alluding to recent protests by Ontario Mohawks.

The deal calls for an agreement in principle in three years on a new form of regional Cree governance.

Law professor Sébastien Grammond, a University of Ottawa specialist on aboriginal legal issues, said he expects the Crees will reach a form of self-government similar to that of the Nisga'a of British Columbia and Yukon natives.

Under the deal, the central Cree Regional Authority gain added responsibilities from the federal government, on such things as policing and justice. "We are creating a form of federalism within the Crees, as we did with the Nisga'a," Prof. Grammond said.

The deal comes five years after the so-called Peace of the Braves, the $3.5-billion accord Quebec reached with the Crees over similar disputes about the implementation of the James Bay agreement.

The Cree population has to ratify the latest deal in a referendum, expected to be held over two weeks in October.

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Unlike the divisive Peace of the Braves, which some communities rejected, the new deal doesn't involve hydro developments and it is expected to pass more easily.

Cree negotiator Bill Namagoose credited Mr. Chrétien, who was appointed by the previous Liberal government, for their success. "Rather than coming in as a defence lawyer for the government, he came in as a problem solver."

The new deal will finance infrastructures such as community centres, administrative buildings and courthouses. It also reimburses the Crees for the millions of dollars they spent on access roads to their villages, which should have been paid for by Ottawa.

Mr. Pachano, the retired town manager from Chisasibi, said the deal will help the housing shortage in his village, where 350 families are waiting for a home.

Chief Losty Mamianskum of Whapmagoostui said the money will pay for an access road and a joint sewer project with the neighbouring Inuit village of Kuujuarapik.

The deal also sorts out the legal limbo of the 360 Washaw Sibi Crees, in the Abitibi. In the 1950s, federal bureaucrats forced them to join a nearby Algonquin community.

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Now they are looking forward to the housing and medical benefits of the James Bay agreement. "It feels great to have this," said their chief, Billy Katapatuk.

"It's obvious that the Crees have benefited a lot from their capacity to unite themselves," Prof. Grammond said.

*****

Cree chronology

1950s

The Canadian government tells the Washaw Sibi Crees to move to a nearby Algonquin reserve or they would be cut off from basic benefits.

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1971

Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa announces "The Project of the Century" - plans to develop hydro-electric dams in Northern Quebec. The Crees, who weren't consulted, organize themselves and turn to federal Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien but he refuses to intervene.

1973

The Crees obtain from the Quebec Superior Court an injunction to stop the construction work. The injunction is overturned by an appellate court but the judicial battle forces the province to the negotiation table.

1975

The Cree and Inuit sign with the provincial government and other parties the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the country's first modern land-claims settlement. The Crees would get $135-million and the Inuit $90-million in return for allowing the La Grande project. 1988

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Quebec announces plans for another northern hydroelectric megaproject, the $13.1- billion Great Whale complex. 1989

The Crees initiate lawsuits in Quebec Superior Court and Federal Court, saying that the federal and provincial government haven't fulfilled their treaty obligations.

1990s

The Crees start an aggressive political and judicial campaign against Great Whale.

1995

Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau shelves the Great Whale project.

2002

The Crees and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry sign the "Peace of the Braves" accord. In return for a $3.5-billion settlement from Quebec, the Crees accept the construction of an hydroelectric project on the Rupert and Eastmain Rivers.

Tu Thanh Ha

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