02/27/2014 03:53 EST | Updated 04/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Washaw Sibi Cree Nation finds home, after decades scattered

After a long struggle, the Washaw Sibi Crees are one step closer to having a place they can call home.

The members of Cree Nation Washaw Sibi, from the James Bay region of Quebec, have been scattered for decades, for many reasons, including the residential school system and government policies.

The estimated 500 members currently living in non-Cree communities, including the town of Amos and the nearby Algonquin reserve of Pikogan.

This week, after 10 years of planning and negotiation, WashawSibi Chief Pauline Trapper Hester announced that a location has been chosen where her people will build their own community.

Chief Hester says the decision was unanimous.

"I am filled with joy," said Hester. "I also cannot help but think about the people who left us behind who are not here with us today. I cannot help myself but think about the children in the next generation."

"I feel so thankful too, especially to my people for their persistence, their perseverance, their patience and their courage."

The area chosen is about 40 minutes' drive south of Matagami, which puts it within EeyouIstchee, the Cree territory defined by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975. Members of the WashawSibi community are beneficiaries under the JBNQA.  

The location is just north of the WashawSibi people's traditional traplines.

"It was a difficult decision," said Hester. "In the end our people were most interested in the quality of the water. They wanted to stay in a nice area, and we were told the water there was clean."

This week's decision still has to be approved by Quebec and Ottawa.  Washaw Sibi is the 10th Cree community in Quebec.

Their fellow Crees from the community of Oujé-Bougoumou went through a similar ordeal decades ago. They were displaced from their traditional territory by mining development and lived in tents until they negotiated an arrangement with the provincial and federal governments and established their own community in the 1990s.