Whapmagoostui is back in international waters in its fight against the idea that Hydro-Quebec might endanger their river and homeland. A tour was recently launched to draw attention the issue in the U.S.
On October 14 at Dartmouth College, the official tour launch was off and running. The tour is designed to draw U.S. attention to Hydro-Quebec's recently announced plans to revive aspects of the controversial James Bay II hydroelectric project.
Cree activist Diane Reid and Chief Matthew Mukash of Great Whale head up the tour. Accompanying them on their journey is POWER, the documentary on the first fight. POWER follows the successful five-year international campaign waged between 1990 and 1995 to stop continued development on their homeland. The tour will take in more than 25 locations throughout the U.S. Northeast.
The new allies to the fight are the film's producers. They are organizing the film and lecture tour in collaboration with Whapmagoostui First Nation. Tour organizers say they want to sensitize Americans living in the northeastern United States to the issue since they are the major purchasers of Quebec hydro-electricity. They also see the tour as a way of renewing old contacts. Crees remember the impact that New England and New York environmental groups played in the cancellation of Hydro-Quebec's original proposal.
Under the new proposal, Hydro-Quebec would divert the Great Whale and Rupert rivers into existing hydro facilities. Even though this is early in the fight Deputy Chief David Masty of Whapmagoostui said, "It's better to attack the idea before it materializes any further and much money is spent on it."
Tour organizers say the film will be of particular interest to those concerned about Native and environmental issues.
Robert Kennedy Jr., a member of the National Resources Defense Council, described POWER as "a manual for indigenous people, for environmentalists and human rights groups about how to battle successfully a project like Great Whale."
In an editorial in the Nov 7, 1997 issue of The Nation on this same subject, editor Nicholls writes that although the spokespeople at Hydro have stated that they will not do any projects that a community nixes, the reality is being twisted, deliberately or not. Hydro says Whapmagoostui's latest referendum (against proposed Hydro changes to the Great Whale river) and the subsequent resolution passed at the annual general assembly of the Grand Council/CRA, don't apply to their latest proposal to divert the Great Whale and Rupert rivers because this project is different from the original one which the Crees defeated.
"Matthew Mukash, Chief of Great Whale, says he can't understand this attitude," comments the editorial. It quotes Mukash as saying: "The mandate encompassed all development to the Great Whale River. It was very straightforward and clear in the mandate that the resolution represented.
That mandate has to be carried out by the Grand Council. Not to do so would be contrary to the understanding by the Cree communities to respect decisions of the other communities."
Chief Mukash added: "This referendum and the resulting resolution were unanimous. No community voted against it. In my mind, there are no questions about it. There should be no negotiations on it. There should be nothing but the actions necessary to stop Hydro-Quebec's plans to develop the Great Whale River whether or not the proposals change.
The editorial comments: "Given all this and Whapmagoostu's latest battle plan for a new U.S. tour, one can only wonder exactly what it is that keeps Hydro-Quebec coming back, again and again. Even the most jaded of the public-relations department can't hope to think that the Whapmagoostui First Nation is going to allow Hydro to divert their river or disappear quietly without a fight...Chief Mukash will be calling Hydro-Quebec to discuss the proposed Great Whale River Diversion Project and to let them know the Whapmagoostui community does not want this project. Given that Hydro said they'll back down if a community doesn't want a project we'll keep you up to date on the developments. In this way we'll see if the forked tongue is a thing of the past when Hydro talks."