The subject of the interviews was the impact of the James Bay hydro project works on the region of Eastmain-Wemindji. Respondents are identified only by number. These are from Vol 2, Part A, pps 95-105. Edited slightly for publication on this Web site.
The importance of main lakes and rivers
Sensitive or fragile areas and relationships
Impacts on regional productivity
Natural cycles and animal migrations
Land impacts in region of reservoirs (La Grande and Opinaca)
Land impacts downstream of Eastmain, Opinaca, Sakami river diversions
General impacts of the hydro project
Note: individual species are named in black type to aid archival search.
The dotted line indicates a new speaker.
Question: Let's suppose that on a particular territory the main river and main lakes had been flooded; does that mean that your most important sources of some of these medicines would be wiped out? For instance, tamarack grows in low-lying places and much of this moss is found in low places. I don't know about this wiisichipikw but perhaps that also grows in lower places. If the most important concentrations of these plants are around rivers and lakes does that mean that flooding would destroy most of what you have available? From your knowledge of environment would you say that is true, or are these things distributed evenly across the landscape?
A: Most of these would now be under water because they are located in the low-lying areas are were flooded first.
Q: On the traplines if we are talking in terms of the percentage of land flooded; would it be a quarter or more?
A: Not that much where we are now but that part of the land I was talking about was the best area for everything, like the fur-bearing animals and the traditional medicine plants were all abundant and now all this part of the land is flooded.
Q: And did the best hunting and trapping areas get flooded?
A: Yes, that's the area we would go hunting and trapping.
Q: So all the best area is under water; would it be accurate to say that the most productive areas for trapping and hunting, and the best areas for gathering medicines and the moss were the areas that got flooded.
A: Yes, that's right.
The main river that produced a lot of beaver, muskrat and otter is pretty well under water (LG-3 Reservoir). That's where the beaver really produced from, coming down that river. We don't even know nowadays where that river is, now it's completely under water.
Q: What was the name of that river?
A: It was called the Otter river in Cree but I don't know if it had another name in English.
Q: Has this always been the most productive part of the trapline, this area here (Menouow Lake, Opinaca Reservoir)?
A: This is the area that was most productive. I was able to get all kinds of fish, beaver, all kinds of other animals. The other area is not as productive for me, because there is hardly any kinds of fish that I could get. Most of the animals are not as abundant as they were in this area: I would be able to sell fish like sturgeon and pike and things like that and make an income out of it. Now I can't fish the area and there's hardly any over in the eastern part on the other side of the trapline.
When I look at the hydro project in terms of all the development, like the dam itself, the dikes, the roads, and everything else that's connected to the project, it seems to me that it's concentrating on the best parts of the Cree territory or the traplines of Eastmain. For instance, where there was good fishing, you have reservoirs; where there was good beaver area, you have dikes and reservoirs; and you also have transmission lines that affect all kinds of species of other animals. One of the things that I think about a lot is the reproduction of animals within the reservoirs or within the construction sites of Hydro-Quebec; I am sure that trappers and certain people that you talked to have mentioned how well populated it was in certain different species of animals. I would agree that certain areas, like upstream from the Eastmain River project, were good areas for reproduction of animals, even big game like moose, beaver and marten, muskrat, and so on. These areas within the reservoir, a lot of the reservoir represents where nesting of birds and where young animals were born. Not only did we lose the animals when the development happened, we lost the areas where they were born, where they're raised.
Q: What would you say are the major issues that have arisen for the hunters, that have been the heaviest impact on their land from hydro, from reservoir flooding or diversions or roads or project-related impacts?
A: I think to begin the worst effect was that the fur income was very low for the trappers and also the other part was that the areas that were most used were flooded. This affected not only their income but also their food, the beaver, the fish and most of this land is under water and what was left is the mountain areas.
Q: So you would say that where the flooding occurred it was the most productive parts of the trapline that were destroyed?
A: Yes, that's what they tell me. Take the ones along the LG-3 road, one of them was most affected, about seventy-five percent of the trapline is under water.
There are a number of places around the land that are too sacred for people to go near, or that they go to only under very strict conditions. There is a place on F.'s territory, a very high, steep hill. It's said that no one has ever climbed it. Many Cree have tried in the past. Like some hunters would want to climb it to look out for bears. One man told the story of how he began to climb it, but he only got so far, but began to feel strange within his mind, like I guess from the power of the place, and he was forced to go back down. That?s why, ever since we were kids, we?ve been disallowed going near that place.
There is another hill on L.'s territory, a large hill where a lot of moose stay. It's also very sacred, and you can only go in there with the hunting boss's permission to kill a moose, and in very windy weather when the moose will not be disturbed. When I was with my father-in-law there, we would circle around that area by a mile or two, not to disturb the area: There was a hunter in there one spring who decided to go onto the mountain without telling the tallyman. Where our trail went, some distance from the hill, we saw tracks of eight moose crossing -- those were moose that were fleeing the poacher. The tallyman had intended to go there later with the right weather to hunt moose, but he said after that there was no use, after they had been disturbed in that way.
Q: Are there any things that you can no longer get; any plants, birds, animals, or fish that you used to have that you don't have anymore because of the flooding?
A: Yes, some fish and fur-bearing animals.
Q: I guess I wasn't clear enough in my question; what I mean is has anything become extinct in that territory?
A: Well, the fur-bearing animals, wildlife and fish... we can?t put our fish nets in the water; we usually have to look for a lake away from the flooded area:
Q: I think we are having trouble getting the concept of extinct across here.
A: Most of the land has become very extinct [he laughs].
Q: I appreciate and I understand that but what I wondered is, sometimes you have a particular area that is absolutely crucial, like let?s say there is only one place where a certain kind of bird can lay its eggs. If that place gets flooded -- that's it -- there will be no more birds on your territory of that kind because they can't reproduce there anymore. I'm not saying there is none of that kind left in the world but is there any particular kind of animal, or bird, or plant that you don't find on your hunting territory now because the only place that they grew was the place that got flooded?
A: Yes, the plants that beaver eat, and beaver itself is almost gone. There is hardly any sign of beaver anymore. The white birds, also, that eat the shrubs and bushes, these are becoming dry and don't seem to grow back after they have been damaged. So the beaver and the willow ptarmigan (waapihyaau) are almost extinct.
The land, the area that has been flooded will never again be the same, only the rocks will be there. Everything else is ruined and the sand will be there. The earth will dissolve and the trees will float around. I have flown over where the water is high only last summer... I saw lots of trees washed ashore, lots of them are destroyed, also the earth and the fish. In the flooded rivers where the fish are, where water is very high, all kinds of things are floating around and these destroy the fishes' food. It is also the same for where the lakes were. The earth dissolves into pieces and floats on the water. All the food for the fish is pushed down and covered by the polluted things floating around. Fish feed at the bottom of the lake or river, their food looks like grass. Eventually the fish will starve too. The fish will be found washed ashore. If one was to search for dead fish one would find them along the shores, the ones that sink to the bottom where the dams have been built. The people who want to stop the projects should do a survey of the fish that are washed ashore and where the hydro lines run. These have a bad effect on the fish. The Crees know this, what it does to the fish. The fish are not all strong and healthy. Some fish are weak. The weak fish, just like a person who is weak, the doctor has found a lot of people who are like that (i.e. that are not strong and healthy), some of the fish are just like that.
As far as animals, I've noticed a big change. I have been a trapper ever since I was a young lad, and even though I trap on the coast I've always communicated with people that hunt within the reservoir areas, or within the sites of the development. And I've always considered that area very rich in animals, and the people that hunt and trapped within the reservoir or the construction or the project areas were always doing well before. And now I see that changed, not only in the amount of fur they catch, that's decreased by so much -- even with the reduction of the size of their traplines, which is mostly underwater, and if you look at the different cycles of animals -- there is no doubt in my mind that the richness of the land has deteriorated since the project.
You could say there's two ways that the land has been damaged, one by the project and the other one would be by the fire that we had in the mid-eighties. Whether it's indirect or direct it still has an impact. Fires, themselves, they started here along the coast and they went as far as one hundred and fifty miles inland, so considering how much land has been burned and how many animals got burned, or managed to get away, how much can they depend on the land itself, you know when that happens, there's nothing much that the Native people can do, all they can do is just wait for it to grow back. Nature can put it back, but Hydro can't, once you flood it, you flood it. That's the other thing that really has impact on, you know, the growth will come back if it's done by nature, but if you do it like the way the Hydro is doing it, what can you get back? There's no way that the Hydro is going to grow a tree right in the middle of his reservoir. He will be greater than God, if he can do it. That's the thing that the forest fire has done, it reduced the availability of food, it affected the animal (food) chain for the people. Same thing as the hydro project, it has reduced the food supply. So you got maybe two concepts of how the food was reduced. You can go all the way up to, close to LG-3, where the areas have burnt, you know, maybe two or three years, we had that, where the forest fires have been in the mid-eighties... or late eighties, I think it was.
I believe that animals have a way of communicating with each other, a way of knowing their difference in cycles or in populations. Because if you observe certain species of animals, a lot of them depend on each other for food source. I guess that's how nature wanted them to be, to be part of each other, to accommodate each other in a territory or on the land. Take the lynx for instance, it needs the rabbits as a food source. Therefore, when the rabbit population is so low, the lynx...can figure it out...that they have to either relocate to another area where maybe a different source of food is available, or try to follow if it's just a location of a different species of animal that they require for their own needs. Even the bigger animals, the big game, some small fur-bearers need them for a food source, so a lot of that, a lot of the relationship between animals and their behavior is connected to their need for each other for a food source and the well-being of the environment. I strongly believe that they have some kind of communication amongst themselves, which is probably by nature.
A: Yes, that's where we hunted most of the time at Raven Hill. They were plentiful. When a beaver eats the shrubs they grow back and when they don't touch them the shrubs just die off.
Q: As if the beaver is creating his own food?
A: The shrubs grow fast when eaten by the beaver.
Q: Were you told of this occurrence?
A: Yes, by the elders. It probably doesn't happen around the flooded area.
...There are more signs of wolves, since we got caribou.
Q: Do you think wolves kill a lot of the caribou?
A: I think they do. Also there are a lot of birds, like seagulls and ravens. At some places on that road you have to slow down because there's so many of them, in some areas especially such as the little access roads that go off the main road. I guess the (sports) hunters went in to the lakes and brought the animals to the road and gutted them; they left what they didn't need in piles of guts. I don't know why they cut them up there, whereas the Native always does it where the animal was killed.
...Other animals, like the mice, were greatly affected by the flooding as their homes are in the ground. A lot of the animals depend on mice for food, that's their most important source of food, especially for the marten, mink, weasel, and foxes of all kinds... A large number of mice were destroyed, considering the amount of water I saw when the reservoirs were opened. I witnessed the flooding.....you know if the mice cease to exist or if they are not plentiful, then you can be sure that the animals that live off mice will die of starvation. They won't be able to hunt for other types of animals, especially ones bigger than the mice because they're not capable of killing them. They consider the mice easy prey because they're small. The mouse is an important part of their daily diet. The smaller animals that roam on land live off the mice. The situation as it stands now is, if they keep flooding the land the smaller animals' main source of food (mice) will no longer be available. Things that sink or go underwater can't grow at all when a flooding occurs. You know if you look at the destruction the water has caused from the air, it looks very pitiable.
The other thing I want to talk about are plants and other things that grow on the ground and where the water floods from the dams. For sure a great amount of plants are destroyed since they are under water. The water is very deep and that is where things that grow, plants and the animals lose a lot of feed around this flooded area, also the people because people eat some of the same plants, too. The land that has been flooded was probably very nice, nice for berries to grow, all kinds of berries. We all know when a river flows it is very nice along the shores and this is where the berries grow. Also the different animals and birds pick the berries too, to eat. The bear really likes to eat the blueberries. As soon as the blackberries are ripe the bear eats them all the time. The bear eats them even after the berries fall off. Sometimes, the snow is already on the ground, and you still can see these berries. The bear is still eating them, this is how the bear stays/looks healthy and tastes very good to eat, produces its fat. That's how we make siikusaakin "fat crackling; scruncheon", when a person kills a bear he doesn't eat by himself, he shares with relatives and friends. Also when he makes the bear grease from the bear fat. He gets a lot of meat from that bear that helps with feeding his family. All the different kinds of berries, the bear likes to eat them: strawberries, raspberries, shikutaau "bake apple berry", blackberries, blueberries, nichikuminaanish -- a species of blueberries (smaller), mooseberries, gooseberries, red berries you find on the ground on very low bush, cranberries, shaapumin "gooseberry", ayuuskinich "raspberry". The bear eats these too when these berries are ripe.
Other animals eat the berries too, I can't name all of them... I know for sure the porcupine eats berries, also the spruce grouse. The ptarmigan, I also know that the fox eat the berries. The geese eat berries on the islands and even on the hills where the berries grow. The geese fly and look for the berries; also the snow geese (wavies) do the same as the geese. The birds will feed on whatever kind of berries they can find. No one can think that only a few eat these berries, all kinds of animals eat them.
The people think highly of these berries because they know that a lot of birds and animals eat these berries to survive. A person looks for the berries he likes and he picks them, puts them in a container, if he want to eat jam he makes it, and just as the animals that fly, walk or run, the people that feed on these berries are nourished. The Crees really love berries. A long time ago, way back, food was scarce; only the fish were plentiful and ducks were killed. When one didn't kill that many fish, didn't catch many in his nets, he would pick berries and make shikumin "fish and berries mixed together"... Every summer the berries grow; there are lots of berries, used to be lots that I saw inland, also along the coast. Nobody, no one can say, I don't care about the berries because the birds and animals feed on them and that's how they survive. The land that has been flooded with water, there are a lot of berries destroyed because the land where the berries grew is completely under water. There were probably lots of berries growing where there is only water now. I know that berries grow inland. I have walked all over when I am inland and I see and look for things that I was taught.
Q: What are the major impacts of the project that you have seen on the community of Wemindji?
A: It is hard to find game around this area since the project. Today it is hard to find beavers, I think it is because of the wolves. The wolf population has also dropped, there used to be quite a number of wolves in this area:
Q: Did the wolf population drop when the beaver population decreased? Is it related?
A: What I mean is the wolves kill the beaver.
Q: So there's a lot of wolves?
A: They were in packs of three one fall. I saw a place where the beaver would go up shore and gather willows, there was a little snow on the ground and I found wolf tracks there.
Q: Do you find the beaver population has decreased even in areas that are not affected by the project?
A: Yes, even the rabbits have decreased. This is the second year now that I haven't snared anything and it's due to the fact the area was destroyed by forest fire. This year I never saw the tracks of caribou where I stayed. I killed only one ptarmigan all year.
Q: What did you live off?
A: A lot of things I bought from the store. In the fall I bought my food from the store and when I returned before Christmas I had to buy more food. There are no fish also; I only caught three after Christmas.
Q: What about rabbit?
A: I never killed any rabbit, it's been two years now and I haven't killed any. I didn't even see tracks.
Q: Any moose around?
A: I seen moose, but I can't kill it because I can't chase it. Only if the moose comes to me that is when I will kill it.
Q: What about bear?
A: I saw tracks in the fall but I couldn't catch up to it, I was already wearing snowshoes. The bear crossed a river that wasn't frozen yet so I guess he didn't want me to eat him.
Q: Did you kill any beaver?
A: Yes, but not many. I only killed five.
1Q: You must of be getting sick of the whiteman's food?
1A: I used to trap down south, a couple of years ago, and there was a lot of beaver then. There is hardly any beaver around here. I don't cover the whole area because I have a problem with my leg. I thought it might break. My father gave me a skidoo, that is what I travel with, but it didn't work. I might have caught more if I had traveled further.
Q: Even if you weren't very mobile, is part of the reason you didn't catch more related to a decrease in the beaver population?
A: There's a road that goes along the last transmission line just before J.S.'s territory. Just before that is where I stayed maybe two years ago. I was hoping to get beaver there but there was hardly any. I don't know what affected that, maybe the road or the power line. There are shacks along the road also.
The shooting boss was explaining that the concentration of geese in the coastal bays during the migration used to be so high that, where the geese had been feeding, the ground was all worked up -- it almost looked as though there had been some animals had been fighting there. This was very good for the growth of new vegetation. Now, with the reduction of density of geese in the coastal areas, there are not enough of them to have the same effect on the ground. So he is worried about the regrowth not being as good, and the area being even less attractive to the geese.
When something like this happens in an area the animals tend to disappear. They tend to disappear from the surface of the earth. Like (they become) very, very low in numbers, and maybe gradually you see a return as if they're just checking up on if some area is still left the way it was.
Like I can give you an example with the moose. When I was a young hunter, I was getting into being on my own and hunting on my own, we had a very good population of moose in the area: And it started gradually declining. This was long before the presence of Hydro-Quebec or the presence of anybody in the territory, in the traplines, as a matter of fact. The population of moose declined. There were a number of years when we only saw two sets of tracks. Then it got even worse, then you'd only see the odd moose track or one moose. Then just a few years before the hydro project, it started to come back again. It was almost as if somebody opened the flood gates of moose, and all of a sudden the territory was populated with moose. Even Native hunters were taking more than previous years, and also some of the -- it was made known to us by some of the Hydro personnel that some of the people that were on the construction sites, like non-Natives, had permits or licenses to harvest moose -- even some of the hunters got their share of moose.... I cannot say to you or to anybody that there is a cycle for the moose, I never really looked at that or investigated that, but I know there is a cycle for other animals, (such as) the rabbit. I'm sure somebody has mentioned it to you as you went along. Ptarmigan, grouse, there is a cycle, but I cannot say that for the moose, I would be lying if I confirmed to you that there is a cycle. But I know there are periods of time when it's high and low, or very low or almost non-existent, but then again, I don't know if that is a cycle or just a migration of big game.
Regarding knowledge of cycles and different migrations; when you talk about migrations, people and sports hunters always refer to birds, but to my knowledge and my experience even fur-bearing animals or big game, they have migrations too. They might not migrate in large flocks like birds, but they do migrate with certain periods of the year and climate. Take the rabbits, for instance; they have cycles, but within that cycle, too, there?s a migration process... When the rabbit comes to be low in population, usually a low cycle starts up north, maybe even more north than Chisasibi, like in Great Whale, then it sort of comes to the middle of James Bay, which would be our area, which is the Eastmain territories. Then it moves down to Matagami and probably even goes more south than that. And that's when you speak of rabbits. So therefore, that's one way that you have to be connected to the animals on your trapline or within your areas, to have good know-how without having to refer to scientific textbooks or to studies that are done by some experts. Just based on your knowledge and your presence amongst the animals that you depend on and also the animals that you try to restock to maintain a good presence on your trapline.
About the quality of water in the beaver ponds, sometimes beaver actually die, like in the winter months, if the water is stagnant. Then, the beaver don't really return to that lake for long periods of time, after the beaver have died in there. And that's what's happening now... There are certain areas where there are certain animals that had never existed. Like in this area around Wemindji, there's a lot of porcupine right now. But you don't see signs of them migrating, like the caribou... In the old days, like in the time of my father who was a hundred years old when he died, (it was believed that) animals regenerated and repopulated the land from the water, like coming out of the water, coming up onto the land. I believe that, and what I meant with the porcupine, is that you don't see signs of it migrating from anywhere, but all of a sudden there are plenty here. And when the beaver comes back, the same thing's going to happen. They're not there now with the (effects of the project), but I believe they?re coming back.
Q: As far as beaver go, do you think they'll come back no matter what development goes on in the region; no matter what changes might come or have occurred in the region in the past twenty years? Are these changes going to affect the future of beaver or other wildlife?
A: In the past this has happened; the beaver population has been very low, and for a number of years it stayed like that and it gradually came back, the population. But in this case, I don't know, only time will tell.
A: No, the beaver are dead, we don't find any because they're dead from the flood. There's a saying, a legend that says that sometimes when you see a beaver diving that's the end of it, and that's how they would know beforehand if the beaver would be less. The legend also says it's a sign there's going to be beaver when you see a beaver coming up from the water. In no time at all there's plenty, they may just be hiding for a while but they will increase. That's how I was brought up in the bush and I am still going back there; that's the reason I went up last fall even though I can't do much. I was hoping that place where I went to last fall, that there would be plenty of beaver since there had been no flooding there, but my son only found three beaver lodges and we were hoping that there would be lots of beaver.
Q: The story you mentioned about the beaver diving, and the beaver coming up again, is that an aatiyuuhkaan (legend)? Is it one that you know well enough to tell me couple of stories from or was it just one story?
A: No, that's something the elders from long ago knew and talked about and passed down to my generation. It's true because I myself have noticed some of these signs. I heard it from the old people and remembered it. Maybe I can add something to that myself, because it's not true only for the beaver but is the same thing with geese. From the first geese you see, sometimes you know how all the geese will be for that season. You know how your luck is going to be for the year. This seems to be that's what the goose is telling us.
Q: How can you tell with geese?
A: Sometimes you don't even hide from the geese and they'll come right at you, and sometimes you see two, sometimes you see more than two, so that's how you know, it all depends. If you see only one then there's going to be less; if you see many first geese so you know there will be plenty of geese for that season. So your first day of hunting if you shoot the geese too high you will not be sure you're going to get it. If you're shooting too high just for the fun of it that's your luck for that season. But if you want to make sure you're going to catch your first shot that's your luck for that season and that's how the old people trained us. I heard that ever since I started hunting.
Q: How do you explain the decline in fur that's being brought in; is that because there's less animals out there to be caught, or is it some change in the priorities of the hunters themselves?
A: What I think is, as I see it there seem to be cycles where the game seems to almost disappear. The fur-bearing animals, these species move; they seem at times to almost disappear all at once. It seems like there is hardly any game to catch in the winters. That cycle was always like that and even now those types of fur-bearing animals seem to be dwindling. I think that it's possible that they are not increasing in population, but possibly some time in the future, it will seem like there is an abundance of these species of fur-bearing animals. I've seen this before. Every winter when we went hunting and trapping, there were times we would not catch enough. It was almost impossible to find game to kill. Even when they really worked hard to try and catch game. That's the reason why we really fight hard to protect hunting and trapping, because as everybody knows we all depend on that for survival, even now. People are always looking for ways to provide for their children and their families.... That type of living was always hard work, I know it was hard because I experienced it. I also know what to expect with whiteman's work; it's like this, sitting around a table that's the way the white people work. They do not go out (bush) for things, fighting hard to get what they need. Even with the heavy burden of hunting and trapping, we never threw it away, we always tried hard to catch game. I think that's the way the game goes; like it's increasing (growing) and then you see the decline and hunters don't get to kill as much. Like I said before, sometime in the future the game will come back; it will increase and grow, I expect that it will be like that.
Things are not growing, even around here I used to see animal tracks -- fox or mink -- but I don't hear people saying they've seen tracks of animals nowadays. I think that's the way things go; those animals that we used to catch they're not increasing and it appears like there are hardly any game left. Those kind of animals that we used to go hunting and trapping; that we used to catch for monetary purposes, they have dwindled. I see the decline of animal species.
If the money that the hunters and trappers use from the Income Security Program was not available, a lot of people would be really poor. I used to wonder about this a lot since it started after the Agreement. I often wonder about the trappers, going back maybe 10 years, that they don't catch as much now because the game is not available.
I know that a lot of people thought we made a mistake when we agreed to the hydro development. In Chisasibi, Wemindji and Eastmain there is water everywhere, but it's not all flooded the land that we used to hunt on. Even around here, I used to hunt and trap, even fish, when I didn't buy much store bought goods to help me survive, and my family. I think people would find it really hard to survive now because of the decline in the animals from which they would have survived. They are not able to survive from their trapping, they get a lot of help from the money they receive through the Income Security Program. That's the way it is. Some people thought, I guess, when they proposed to have monetary compensation for the hydro development, that it was a bad idea to have Income Security for trappers. But it appears that the good judgment was made to have it because they would not have had the same benefits if they just sold their furs.
Let me just quote that our Creator had promised that He would never flood the earth again, that was one of His promises. But now we see that there's flooding of traplines, but it's not from our Creator.
I told him that my trapline was a reservoir. I told him, for the next 50, 100 years, Hydro-Quebec will be using my trapline as a reservoir. There will never be any more growth, there will never be any recovery of my trapline like what I saw on his. My trapline, because of the huge reservoirs within my trapline, has been destroyed forever.
Question: How much of your family's trapline has been affected by the reservoirs?
Answer: It's hard to say because I haven't really seen the trapline since the flooding. It's about... more than half.
Q: More than half?
A: Yeah. There's not much left. And the area that has been flooded, it used to be in my opinion the most productive area of the trapline.
When my husband and I and our family were happy whenever we went out on our trapline, because we knew we would have plenty of food: there would be a lot of animals, there would be a lot of fish; we had plenty to eat whenever we were out there on our trapline. And of course, we didn't know that one day our trapline would be flooded. We weren't even informed that our trapline would be flooded. While we were out there, sometimes we would see a plane flying by and we used to wonder what was going on. And sometimes we would see the plane land on one of the lakes close by our trapline. And then, sometimes, either my husband or one of our sons would decide to go check why the plane landed there, and sometimes they spotted them dipping things into the lake, maybe it was....like, checking the depth of the lake, I guess. And yet, we still didn't know what was happening or what was going on.
Well, like I said, there was always plenty of rabbit, plenty of white birds, beaver, moose on our trapline, but since the flooding ....everything drowned that was there. There used to be hills around that area of the trapline and (now) that's basically what you'll see on the trapline, are just the hills. And there used to be trees, and due to the flooding....the only thing you would see would be the tops of the trees, and the rest is all under water. We used to have different camping areas on our trapline; especially in the fall. Most of the camping areas are all under water, except maybe for just the ones that we had close by the hills, where the land was much higher. We would have a camp there, maybe there's only one left and the rest are all under water.
After the flooding of our trapline, I never went back. I didn't want to go back knowing that I would only see just the hills and just the treetops, that's all I would see. Once, after the flooding, my husband tried to go back to the trapline to hunt. He didn't get anything at all. It wasn't worth it going back. The same thing with my oldest son; he tried twice to go back to the trapline since the flooding. Same thing, there was nothing there.
Extent of Flooding/lnaccuracy of Hydro Maps: From one end to the other our land is covered with polluted water, leaving just a tiny piece of dry land.... It is true, for miles and miles it's just water.... We did really lose everything.... I feel sorry because when we went back to hunt and trap there was nothing but water in the used-to-be-beautiful natural habitat of all kinds of animals that bred around that piece of land.... They promised us nothing was going to happen to any tree or anything else on our trapping grounds, now you can only see thousands of tree stumps all along the shores of a man-made lake. They promised us we wouldn't lose anything, and that hurts.... This is the plain truth of how empty it is where our trapline used to be. They covered it with water destroying any living thing for miles and miles around.
One of the things that amazes me the most is the huge mass of water that's there. I never really had the full knowledge of just how much flooding there would be once the Eastmain River was diverted. I'm amazed at how much flooding there is, additional flooding to what was originally designed.
(Looking at map). This is the limit of the reservoir, how far the water should have risen. But this winter, this is how far it has risen. Before, in the years before, the water would go all the way up, rise all the way up to, where there's rapids.... The water couldn't rise any higher, because of the difference of the height of the land. In the years before, that's how far the level of the water had risen.
This is what was shown to us, this is what we were made to believe that the reservoir would look like, these were the boundaries that we were consulted on. But that's not what it looks like, it's not accurate, it's false information. Like I've just identified with the red pen, this little peninsula that the map shows untouched is now underwater, plus there's a channel here, and these two lakes are underwater, never mind all the other little spots that I've mentioned before. We were made to believe that was the way it's going to look, but it's totally not the case.
Q: Would you have similar concerns if there was another hydro project and another trapper's land was to be flooded, that something like that could happen again?
A: I can safely say this can occur again. If a hydro project happens in a Cree territory, when it involves traplines, trappers will be involved, I can safely say from experience that boundaries of reservoirs will be outlined, boundaries that were outlined will have extra flooded areas, either unforeseen to engineers or just dishonestly recorded, it will happen. When you look at a reservoir boundary now, for the future you have to allow in your mind that there will be more flooding then what will be proposed or what will be shown to you.
Q: What's the Cree name for this big lake [refers to map]?
A: It's still the same name as today -- Uupinikaa waapisaakaau*. The narrows is where they did the net fishing.
Q: What is the name of this lake [refers to map]?
A: Kaawaapskimikaau* -- this big area here, this lake here. There were all kinds of names on his area but he can?t remember all of them.
Q: The reason I asked about those names, I think the whiteman got this wrong, because on this map it's called Low Lake and not Opinaca. The names are mixed up.
A: He knew that the whiteman called all the lakes the same, either one of them. The Crees didn't call it Opinaca. These all had different names too [referring to map] --Kaawaapuupuskimauu*, Kuaapissakuu*.
As far as the community knowing more about the reservoir itself, a lot of the elders in the community see the environmental changes on the coast, they see sandbars, they see new trees, new forest growing. They're amazed at some of the natural changes that happen along the coast. The same elders probably saw and walked this piece of land before it was flooded, but they haven't seen it since the flooding. Today if you took the elders, never mind how amazed they are with the environmental changes on the coast, new brush or different areas with shallow areas, if you took them over there and you say, "this is where it was," or you name a place, "you're standing on what used to be," you would be amazed at their reaction, you would be amazed at the disbelief I'm sure they would express.
Okay, for starters, I want to talk a little bit about the reservoir itself, like how much water there is in my trapline. In the beginning of the impoundment or just prior to that, I was taken by helicopter with some Hydro personnel and also some local authorities and they flew around on what the future boundaries of the reservoir would be. It was sort of like they wanted to show me how much the flooding would be by aerial surveys, by aerial visions. And then the impoundment came in, like when they closed off the river, and to me, what was shown to me, what I was made to believe on a map is nothing compared to what I experienced. The amount of water is way beyond the boundaries that we flew by chopper or that was identified on a map.
Recently too, after the diversion, I've had a chance to see what it looks like from the air. When you look at it from the air it doesn't look as bad as when you walk it, sometimes you don't see just how worse it looks as when you walk the trapline. Because I've been with some Hydro personnel that's flown me around in the reservoir and when I paddled in the reservoir or when I walked on the trapline it's totally different, it's a totally different picture altogether.
I am 69 years old. I was born and raised on this piece of land that accommodates the largest reservoir. When I was ten, twelve years old I started hunting with my father. When I turned 20 I started going by myself, I was taught to be by myself, and I've always been on my trapline. And I would like to share with other people some of the experiences that I have, when there's a reservoir or there's a huge hydro development on your trapline. So as we go along tonight I'm going to mention a lot of things that probably will happen to people that will face developments on their land or on their traplines. Because to me, I feel that the only way that anybody else will learn of the results of a reservoir is to be honest for those people that have already experienced it like myself.
When we first heard what's going to happen to the traplines from the diversion, I didn't expect that much to happen. I expected something less, but not that much. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I saw our trapline, because I didn't go out. It was back in 1991, the first time I saw our trapline. I was really surprised at what I saw.
Last fall, the first time I went out by plane to our trapline, and according to the map that I saw, how much flooding there was supposed to be, the lake that we landed on wasn't supposed to be flooded, but it's two feet under water. There was another lake on the west side of where we stayed, and that lake shouldn't have been under water according to the maps that we used to get, but it's under water.
Q: Has the water level reached its predicted level?
A: Yes, it went even higher than predicted.
When I wanted to stay where I have always stayed, they had flooded the land. I wanted to stay alongside the flooded area but they told me the lakes weren't affected. They mentioned a certain lake that wasn't going to be affected, and that I wouldn't notice any change. You can see the lake there (on the map). This is where I wanted to stay for the winter to find out how the flooding would affect the area, and how I would experience it. Sure enough it hadn't yet affected the area, from what I could see, where I wanted to set up my fishing camp. When I landed on the lake where I wanted to land, the area looked like it hadn?t yet been affected by the flooding. You could see along the Kaahkaachiiuchii (Raven Hill) area how it was and you could see level of water along the shore. Then when fall came, my family had not yet flown in, I noticed the water level was rising. That is when I knew they didn't tell me the truth. That is what I wanted to find out.
The lake where I landed, the rest of my family hadn't yet arrived. There was no place for the plane to land because there was no place to dock the plane, when I first arrived there was a sandy beach where the plane docked, but it was underwater by the time the rest of my family arrived that fall. The water was getting close to where I had set up my camp. You see that they had not told me the truth, that had really affected me, because of the lies they told me.
When the rest of my family arrived they had to dock where it was suitable for the plane. It did not dock where I had docked when I arrived.
Initial Flooding/Trapping Out Program: In the fall of the impoundment of the water, right after the river was cut off, the Opinaca River, I had the opportunity to be on my trapline just so that I would experience firsthand some of the changes that would occur. And one of the things that I noticed -- not right on the reservoir, I couldn't concentrate right on the main reservoir itself, but I concentrated on creeks or little rivers that come into the reservoir -- I noticed a couple of lodges where there was no doubt in my mind that the beavers actually drowned or were actually killed by the impoundment of water. One of my theories is that when the water reached a certain level and got hit by cold weather, the draw down of the water was so fast that there was air between the water and the ice, and when you have that, the ice tends to fall. So in my theory, that's what happened to the lodges, the ice fell and it sort of closed off the entrance of the lodge, and the beavers were trapped either inside or away from their food pile, therefore either starving in the lodge itself or between the lodge and the food pile. I found five large beavers plus three yearlings, altogether I found eight beavers that were actually in my mind killed by the impoundment of water. And this is firsthand, I never guessed this, I was right on my trapline when this happened.
I look at the beaver population as one of the heaviest hit from the reservoir, inside the reservoir. I can just imagine how difficult it was for the beaver to adapt to the fluctuation of the water, to the falling of the ice, and the change of habitat. I just can't seem to find the right words to describe how he survived, if any of them survived at all. If they survived the fluctuation of the water, they were much easier to get at by animals like the wolf.
The trapping out was done just before closure, the year before. The following fall when they closed the doors, when the reservoir started filling, it started creating small islands. On the islands we saw bears, moose, lynx. A lot of the animal population was never harvested the way it was supposed to be, there was a lot that wasn't taken out. So therefore a lot got destroyed during the rising of the water level.
A: Yes. A lot of the animals were harvested, a lot of them drowned, and some even died of starvation, when they got stranded on the islands. Because the reservoir kept filling, and there was no way they could get ashore, you know? Some of these animals, like the lynx and things like that, don't swim in winter; they couldn't swim because of the distance. A lot of them starved on the islands.
Q: What do you believe happened to the animals that were in the areas that were eventually flooded?
A: If I recall correctly the impoundment, when they cut of the reservoir, I think it was in the fall, so therefore in my way of thinking a lot of the animals lost their lives in that reservoir, especially at that time of the year when the water started to rise. I also say confidently that I probably lost a lot of the animals that were in the water like beaver, even they could not have survived such an event at that time of the year. And following that I can say that when the trapline was undisturbed, even when we were trapping there every year, it always seemed to maintain its level in population of animals, and that is because of their food that was available I am proud to say that the food for animals was probably the best of all the Eastimain territories in my trapline, that's why the animals were in great numbers.
Q: Why was the time of year so critical to what happened to the animals that were there?
A: Two theories why it was so critical for the survival of the animal population. The level of the land is not high, it's a piece of land or a territory that is not all hills and mountains, it's sort of level, it's not high land, that's one thing. So therefore the flooding came fast and came in such a large area in a short period of time. And the other thing too, is if you look at not just my territory, my trapline, but all the traplines of Eastmain, and also probably all the Cree territory, animals in the fall they don't mobilize themselves, they stay in good areas, their mobilization is limited. They've already picked their lodge area, their den for bears, their moose yard for the moose. It's a period for animals where they stay in an area which provides for their needs. They don't migrate, they don't change locations. And that was the time of the year of the impoundment. Whereas in spring if you look at animals they've gone through the hard winter, they're enthusiastic about the new life that spring and summer brings, they go long distances, move around without even having to make a lodge or stick to one area to survive. So those are my two reasons I believe why it was such a wrong time of the year to create the reservoir.
Q: What are your feelings about that now, the way that was handled and what happened to the animals on your trapline because of the flooding there?
A: Well, first of all I guess it's not the best time for anybody, I guess you can say, unless you only consider economic reasons. I guess it's not the best time to start creating a reservoir, in the fall, when animals are starting to be still, have established themselves. So if I was to recommend I would never recommend an impoundment in the fall. Maybe you can start looking at spring runoff, start generating the reservoir in the spring runoff, that way maybe some beavers and other fur-bearing animals and maybe some of the large animals could adapt to the change over the course of the summer. I'm not saying that the total loss of beaver or animals on my trapline was a result of the impoundment or the reservoir filling up, but I say that I believe a lot of the animals lost their lives as a result of that.
One of the things I want to talk about is when the hydro project was in full swing, the dam on the Eastmain River was there and everything seemed to be ready, Hydro-Quebec, through the band consultations and through other government agencies, announced to us, "We want you trappers to go in and do an intensive, like a very heavy trapping-out in this area." So we went in, I went in with a group of other trappers. And since this was in the fall and there was already a dike there, which would be the dam itself, the impoundment of the water, the rising of the water beat us into the season. We found it very difficult to move around, we found it very difficult to find lodges, and some lodges that we found, the beavers had totally disappeared on us. Either they drowned or they froze or they relocated at that time. So the situation was very difficult as far as trapping as many animals as we possibly could because of the short notification and also the time of the year. And one of the things that they said to us was they would provide us with some assistance, any assistance that we called for, like as far as food, like maybe in groceries. And at the end of the trapping-out program we were instructed to move everything, our traps, our canoes; nothing was to be left inside the boundaries of the future reservoir. Everything was moved to a construction camp that had an airport, and from that airport we moved everything to Eastmain. And that was the only good thing about it, that I guess Hydro-Quebec paid for the transportation, all the aircraft and all the aircraft strips that brought us out, and also all our equipment.
Q: That was only for the one year that they did that?
A: No, it was for two years. Like after making a report to the persons involved, they asked us to go in the next fall to try to find the beavers that we'd lost, some of the beavers that we thought were lost. We did come across maybe a few families of beaver that we thought were lost, they had gone elsewhere in a nearby creek or a nearby pond or a lake. So actually you could say the program ran for one trapping season with a tail-end of maybe just a small survey to determine some of the outstanding questions related to some of the disappearances of certain species of animals.
Water Level Fluctuations: Q: How fast does the water level go down (in the Menouow Lake section of the Opinaca Reservoir), in the fall or winter?
A: It takes quite a while, because there seems to be a control to it. I know in the Eastmain area there're flood gates. The water level seems to be raised and lowered, it's lowered during the fall season. This is one of reasons why the beaver gets killed, the water level rises and then falls so low that there would be no water for them to build a lodge and to make ponds, no water for them to use within the area... the level of the water would fall and they would have no water, and this usually lasts through the fall and through the winter. The lowering of the water. And then again in the spring the water is raised again. You can't say it's really fast but I know all through the fall season the level of the water is lowered.
Shoreline Changes/islands Created: Once the water level started to rise it started making small islands that were formerly the high parts of the land. And today when I look at that, a lot of the small islands are now gone, because the movement of the waves or the movement of ice on the reservoir had scraped off the soil and the trees, right off the top of the high ridges. And it looks like, today when I look at it, it's either just a bare rock there, which is the tip of a hill, or there's lots of huge rocks, almost like a rock bar.
Just above the Eastmain diversion, the dam on the Eastmain River, I could take a canoe and paddle on the river. There were sandy beaches, there was a shoreline, and same thing on the Opinaca lakes. Today that's impossible, I could never take a canoe, I could never find a sandy beach within the reservoir. I will never, ever in the future be able to find a sandy beach, that's totally gone. There's no existence of that.... There's thousands of trees, debris that flows back and forth with the wind direction. That's another thing that members of the community cannot visualize, that's another thing that they would be impressed if they saw that, impressed by the sight in relationship to damage of land and trees.
In the reservoir, what used to be the bank of the Eastmain River, there's a lot of dead trees in there, killed by too much water. I see a lot of trees falling over or leaning, ready to fall over, I see lots of that in this area. You could even see sometimes where a tree has fallen, where the roots would be sticking out of the water, the roots come right out and you see the whole stump sticking out.
On the reservoir, LG-2, there's an island that moves.
I guess it was really thick (bog area), and the whole thing came up. R.M. was telling me that every time he sees that island, in the summertime, it's always in a different place. But it doesn't move that fast and it's only in the hollow places there that its spongy, but it?s pretty solid in the higher ground. It's a fairly big island too.
Access/Travel/Safety: One of the other things I have noticed, as far as water or the movement of the water within the reservoir, is it's almost impossible to concentrate on the reservoir with paddling canoes. The waves are huge, they're almost like in James Bay. Before, you had islands or you had mainland that you could use as a breaker, as a windbreak; now it's such a huge mass of water that you need a freighter canoe to be able to get around within the reservoir. I was there for the first year after the water started to rise, and one of the things that I noticed was the waves, I was concerned that it was too dangerous. There's also a lot of debris, a lot of trees floating around back and forth, depending on the wind directions, there's a lot of tree debris and even huge masses of moss that seem to float back and forth on the reservoir.
For those people in Whapmagoostui, I want to tell them that when you have a large reservoir, there will be other obstacles that will get in the way of your fishing. Hydro-Quebec is going to tell you they're going to clean the shorelines, they're going to do some clearings to save spawning areas and things like that. They will do that, they will probably clean areas that they pick or somebody picks, but then again as the years go by debris from other parts of the lake will fill in what you've cleaned. Even if you clean an area where there's promising fish today or that will have increased population of fish, there will be other obstacles. There will be the high waves just like in the Opinaca and Eastmain reservoirs. There will be different things that are going to be in the way that normally weren't there before. That's what I want to tell the people of Whapmagoostui.
It's very difficult to get at the different fishing areas, or the different areas where different species exist, because of obstructions like debris, ice conditions and water conditions within the reservoir. I believe the population is good but then there's increased difficulties getting to them. When I look at the fishing situation on my trapline I know there's fish there, but in my own mind I feel that the book for fishing has been closed for me, both above and below the reservoir.
They cleared the area at the mouth of the lake there, there's all logs going across. And I told Edward that should be cleared. And he was saying he was trying to get money from Hydro-Quebec to do some work on the flooded traplines. I don't know what's going to happen from there.
Q: I hear that travel on those reservoir areas is very dangerous for that reason, the debris and all.
A: Yeah. Like I said, it was the first time I saw them. I was kind of scared when I went on the boat, I was afraid I was going to hit a tree stump or something like that, or a rock. There is a lot of big rocks in that area.
I don't know anybody that's hunting there on the reservoirs, because the water keeps going up and down, so I don't think anybody?s hunting on the reservoirs. It's off the reservoirs, off the swamps near the reservoirs. But I don't think on the reservoirs, it's too risky, because the water keeps going back and forth, so it's not safe.
I had a wild experience on the Eastmain River when the water started rising. The water level goes to a certain height, it doesn't stay there, it fluctuates, sometimes it goes very low, and the ice stays high. I was driving along with my skidoo on the ice when everything just collapsed and everything just fell through. I could safely say without any exaggeration that the ice went down a minimum of ten feet. I was very fortunate, I landed on what was an island created by the reservoir. Imagine if I'd have been in an open area where it was just water, it would have been physically impossible for me to get out.
The other thing is, within this area --I still go back to the area (Menouow Lake section of Opinaca Reservoir) to hunt and trap -- especially during the fall and winter months, the level of the water here goes down but the water never really freezes. There is a thin layer of ice over it and the snow just falls over it and if somebody came in who didn't know about it and he tried to cross it, it would look perfect, normal in every way, but it's pretty dangerous if you're not careful and watch what you're doing. You try to cross it in a skidoo, you just drop through the thin layer of the ice and it's pretty dangerous. I still go back to the area, I've seen the same thing I had (seen) with C., the beaver still come back but when the water rises, all the lodges are under water especially during the spring and during the summer, then it lowers again during the fall and the winter months. The level of the water that rises and lowers is roughly about ten feet but I can't give an exact figure.
Again, due to the level of the water, since the water won't freeze that solidly, even myself and my son have almost fallen through the ice one winter when we went to go to our camp. I was fortunate enough, my son was going up ahead and managed to call me back. We were lucky enough that time, even for us, it's pretty dangerous for us when we have to watch when we go hunting or trapping.
Q: Are there any signs posted around the reservoir, in any language saying that the ice can be dangerous?
A: There's no signs of any kind.
When we have to go over here [indicates place on Menouow Lake section of Opinaca], we have to paddle, especially, like during the summer time. And we can't really just stop anywhere that we like, especially if the wind picks up and the waves get higher, it's dangerous for us in that way. We pretty well have to pick a calm day, because there's almost no place where we could seek refuge in bad weather.
Q: Is it more difficult to find spots along the reservoir banks than it would have been along the lakes and rivers before?
A: Before the flooding we had no trouble when we had to travel this lake. It was easy for us. Now we find it's really hard for us because of the water level. It's not only because we can't just stop anywhere. Also because all the trees that were flooded stick out. Not all of them stick out above the water, some are just below it. If you're not careful you either get snagged or you could turn over. For somebody who just comes in, it will be quite a job to navigate the area. And plus when the wind picks up, it's another headache for us.
I have to use the access road instead of using the (LG-3) reservoir to get to the other end of my trapline.
Q: Why can't you use the reservoir?
A: Well, the reason is that there's a lot of trees still implanted and a lot of hills that are barely under water. I could go only if I follow the channels which are not recognizable, and there are a lot of stumps and obstacles that I'm afraid I might hit. I cannot even go through those islands that are in the reservoir, to find out if there's anything to be trapped in that area. There's still a lot of trees under water and we don't get any assistance from Hydro-Quebec. I took a canoe with my own vehicle down to the end of my trapline. It's very hazardous to go on the reservoir right now.
The waves are pretty dangerous here and the hills especially. I can't go with my boys all the time. Only I know the channels. I had just started teaching my boys, for maybe about four years, all of the trapline, when the flooding occurred, and that's why they don't know all the channels and that's why I don't want them to go by themselves. Because they don't know. They're not aware of the hills and trees, and it's very dangerous with a big wind in that body of water.
Q: Ever since the flood have you noticed any new danger spots that weren't around before the flood?
A: Only along the lake because of the current; the ice was dangerous in that area.
Q: Did you ever try using an outboard on a canoe on the lake?
Q: Do you trust it?
A: No, because there is lots of debris floating around. I tried it once when I was clear cutting but it wasn't very good.
Q: You traveled slowly?
A: Yes, because of the debris and the trees.
Q: You mentioned (regarding transportation difficulties) that there was a hole at the side of your trail.
A: Yes if I went right over it -- it didn't look dangerous --- I probably would have gone through. Long ago the water usually rose in the middle of the river and the water levels along the river banks were high, this loosened the river banks before break up. See how far that area is? It is very different and badly affected by the flooding. That is how evil the whiteman is. There is a lot the whiteman can learn from us Native people, but what we say to them is useless.
Q: Is more difficult to go around edges of Sakami lake now or some other lakes where there are beaver lodges?
A: Yes, because of the water and the trees. It is dangerous when you are paddling. These dead trees float around the water and this makes it dangerous.
Q: What about getting around on land, in those areas. How difficult is that?
A: Because of the water level, the beaver lodges are far from the land.
Q: So there's a distance between the dry land where you've been walking and where the beaver lodges are?
Q: What have you heard from the trappers about the ice conditions in the reservoir area or the flooded areas?
A: They don't stay around there, they don't trap on the reservoir.
Q: Have you heard any stories about things happening to people?
A: Ice dropping.
Q: What happens, does the ice freeze?
A: There might be big level of ice like that because the water level drops. And then it freezes again and it might go down again, then there's another level of ice.
Q: So you get this layer of ice?
Q: What's in between them?
A: Just air. A few inches of ice in one layer then there's another layer.
Q: But from the top, the surface of the ice, it looks fine?
A: Yes, it looks good, like they say " you can't judge a book by it's cover".
It must be almost a dry bed, what used to be the Eastmain River, where we traveled to reach our destiny, the Opinaca River, in the fall and traveled down again in the spring, still fishing and hunting all the way down to the post of Eastmain. Really, it's true, we have lost everything. There are no more fish and waterfowl. Today we cannot eat the fish of the river because they do not taste the same or they are evidently not good for food any more.
I believe it's going to eventually be like a small stream, what once was a river will be a small stream.
There's a lot of changes I've seen since the project, like the decreased flow of the Opinaca river.
Q: Is your trapline located on the part of the river that has been diverted?
Q: How much of the flow of that river was cut off by the dams?
A: It's ten feet lower than it was. You can see where the shore used to be and now it's way up high on the land.
Q: How deep is the water now in the river, just below the diversion?
A: In some places the river is similar to a lake and the water there is deep, but where the river is narrow there's hardly any flow of water there.
Q: What happens to the river farther downstream (away from the diversion)? Does the water level start going up again as the side streams go into it?
A: Only in the spring time after the snow melts, then the rivers are full and then there's water going in, but in the summer time it's all dry. And even where the rapids were it's all dry.
One of the rivers (Sakami) was closed and now it flows in three directions. The dam that was built has no relevance whatsoever to me, I know it doesn't help me at all. I personally haven't received any kind of compensation for it, not even a dollar. As of today I haven't gotten anything from it yet. You should see the area, it's not a pretty sight to see, especially downstream. It's completely dry, there's no water at all. To show how dry it is, I can even walk around in the middle without worrying about getting water in my boots. Before the dam was built this was a very important area to us because this is where we used to set our traps to trap the beaver. This is where the beavers lived, and the muskrat and the otter. We used to set traps for the otter too. And now we can't even do that, we've lost it all. The fishing we used to do in that river is now gone too. There is not that much water upstream, it is blocked somehow. There are some areas where we can still trap around this part even where the water level is elevated. Like I said before, we've completely lost the activities we used to do where it's been flooded. Sometimes the water goes down and we try to take advantage of this so we set fish nets.
A decision was made for us to use a plane and fly around to look for that dam. We did finally see it. They told us to go there too by canoe. So we did paddle to that area because they wanted us to look at it from ground level. We did take a look at the dam. We could hardly make it because it was very dry downstream. Sometimes there was only a little bit of water and we had to carry the canoe. It was a quite a distance to our destination. It took us over a day to get there. As we got closer, sure enough the water got more scarce. We finally caught sight of the dam in the distance, very high up. When we had climbed to the top, we saw the treetops of some trees sticking out of the water. Most of them were under the water. This river that was blocked, just for the purpose of blocking it, is not very wide. We finally got to paddle around to where the water was high and there used to be rapids there that looked very dangerous but it was nowhere in sight. It was completely under the water.
Water Level & Quality: One of the first impacts that I want to mention is the level of the water. When they cut off the Eastmain River there was a very small amount of water below the site of the dam. But as a corrective measure, as a remedial measure, a sill was built. Even with that sill, the original level of water is not maintained, it's still below that.
Before they cut off the Eastmain River I had a large amount of water in this bend of the river on my trapline. The original shoreline, it didn't have a beach, it had a bank, and willows growing on both sides of the river. I had flats on both sides of what now is the river. But since the diversion, there's a lot of bush growing on both sides. From here to a hundred feet on either side of the river I have bushes growing, new bush. Like where I paddled before, if I was fifty feet from the shoreline where I paddled before the diversion, now I would be walking through the bush.
On the east end of my lake I have trouble trying to get through with a paddling canoe, that's how shallow it is. My lake is very shallow. If I was there in mid-summer when the water level on that lake is at it's lowest, I bet you I could walk across my lake. The only water that comes in is through those two creeks from the north, and even then I need a large amount of rainfall to have a good amount of water in my lake. The amount of water that stays in my lake depends on how much rainfall I have; no rainfall, very minimal water. I have flats on my lake, like I have a shoreline on my lake.... From the original shoreline to where the water starts is about fifty feet. I'm missing 50 feet from the original shoreline to the new shoreline. And in the past few years there's vegetation that's starting to grow on the new shoreline, there's some bush, and I've also seen a few trees starting to grow. Maybe Hydro-Quebec will say this is an advantage, this is good for vegetation. And the other thing, too, is without exaggerating I've lost about ten feet of water in depth. It could be more, but without exaggerating I think I've lost a minimum of ten feet in depth of water.
The highest level of water on the Eastmain River before the diversion was around September, October. Even when I'm on my trapline in September and October, in the fall, I don't notice the water level increasing (now). I have a sill, there's a sill present on my trapline. It sort of helps maintain the water, not at the original level, but there's a certain maintenance of the water level. Even that, looking at that is nothing compared to what the water level used to be before. Like I said, and I will say it again, there's mud flats on both sides of my river. To me I feel that before the diversion the lowest level of water used to be around August, now even what I call high today is not even close to what the low level would be in August before the diversion.
I remember before the damming of the river I used to paddle down with my family from the Opinaca River.... to get here. And I remember at that time, the river was always like it is at high tide, the water was always like that, and we always paddled in by canoe, I would bring in my kids. Today...there's hardly any water, the water is very low, almost dry. And the other thing that I've noticed since the damming of the river is when you look across the river when the tide is very low, you see a lot of rocks on the river bed, and before the dam it was never like that. Even when the tide was low it still looked like the water was just piled up, that's how it used to look like. And now, due to the damming of the river, that's why people can't fish anymore, because there's so many rocks now in our river that were never there before.
The water used to be clear, now the water is brown. I don't take my water from the lake anymore. I used to love taking water from the lake, I don't take it anymore. I take my water from the streams coming into the lake or nearby lakes. This is in the fall, then in the wintertime I melt snow for my water.... Of course I blame the low population of fish on the quality of water. Like I said before, when I had clear water I had good drinking, I had good fish. I have brown water now, I don't have good drinking water, I don't have good fish.
The temperature of the water I believe has changed.
The water is very shallow, so it doesn't take as many days as it used to for the water to warm up.
The water levels in the river don't do the fish any good. In the spring time, because of the snow coming into the creeks and the rivers going into the reservoir, the water flows okay but after a while all the snow is gone, and it's only like a lake there. There's no activity going on and you can?t even drink from that water.
The water is just sitting there, there's no current activity. Just like if you fill up a bowl of water, it sits there.
Q: Do you feel that there needs to be a current, that the water needs to be moving for it to be kept clean?
A: Yes, it's good for the animals that stay in the water when the river is flowing and they have movement, it's good.
Q: Were you saying before that you don't bother fishing in the area below the dam, that that's an area where you don't fish?
A: Yes, I don't fish there because the fish are affected by the water.
Q: How are they affected?
A: Because the water levels in the river don't do the fish any good. In the spring time, because of the snow coming into the creeks and the rivers going into the reservoir, the water flows okay but after a while all the snow is gone, and it's only like a lake there. There's no activity going on and you can't even drink from that water.
Q: What happens to the fish when the water isn't moving?
A: Sturgeon is the one most affected, and some other fishes, maybe. Sometimes you cannot eat the sturgeon because it's so skinny and it's not edible.
Q: Are the fish smaller than they used to be?
A: Yes, the fish are small and we do not fish where there is no current anymore.
It looks like the color of milk in your tea, that's the color of water up on the other side of the diversion, before the dam. It looks like that in the spring.
A: My understanding in this area is that the flooded area, past the dam the water is very still, it's not moving, it's not doing anything. And it's gathering up all the pollution that's coming in from wherever, and that's the reason why the fish are dying here. But on the river there we have just maybe a little cup of water flowing down, and the fish are still the same because it's the water that's seeping in from their area.
Q: They are the same as inside the reservoirs?
A: Yes, because of the water that's not moving anymore, it's polluting everything that was ever good for food. The river there after the dam has just a very small amount of water going through it, and there are a few fish there but they're still not as healthy as they should be. And some parts are just rocks, you can almost walk right across to the other side. Because the river is not straight like this, it follows the land. We had rapids before, but now we don't have them; it's almost as if you could walk across the driest areas. And that's why the river was healthy long ago, because it was always, always flowing, always throwing out the dirt and pollution, whatever was coming in from inland. It didn't stop here along the coast, it went way out under water, and way out in the Bay, not along the coast. It was so strong it went way out in the Bay to discharge the pollution, whatever was there before the dams were built, but now they are gathering up all the pollution in one spot. That's why I understand the Cree Health Board is telling us not to eat the fish along the river.
Loss of Travel Routes: Just below the dams, the rivers are all dry, you can no longer paddle down, camp along the river.
I know from experience, there's no way that you can take a canoe and paddle in that space between the Eastmain River diversion and the bridge. There's mud flats; you can walk the shoreline instead of paddling in and out on the river, and that of course in itself is a big change.
On our trapline, we used the rivers to look for beaver lodges or beaver signs in the fall, so we would know where to go after freeze-up. But since the diversion, my dad hasn't been able to do that. Even when he paddles out I guess he doesn't go out very far, not like before.
The transportation loss up the river to me is one of the biggest losses. Not only for just being able to travel and see the land, but also as a way of life. Every fall my family went up the river, and then come springtime we'd come down and we'd bring our furs, walk into the Bay store, cash our fur in. Now I have no fur at all after March; I'm practically stuck in the village after March. I just go goose hunting, I don't hunt any fur much.
It's so much changed. We used to have some dried fish in the spring and dried goose in the spring, and all those kinds of birds in the spring that come around, even loon, ducks, all kinds of ducks. We used to dry them and save them for coming down by canoe. We used to paddle down with the canoe, I used to like that.
Q: And why can't you do that now?
A: There's hardly any water down the river. Even where the rapids used to be there is no water, there's hardly any water going down. That's why we can't come down. We have to come down before the break-up.
A: I think, in the past years, in every fall, the old people used to go up the river by canoe every fall with our groceries, paddling. We had to carry our stuff to pass the rapids, we carried everything on our backs, not by airplane. There were no airplanes around before, not too many, I don't know what year was the first year we had planes around to go up to where we're supposed to trap every year. And that thing we have been doing, paddling up the river, we can't do it anymore, we have to go up by plane. And that's the thing that has much changed, we are losing that, having good exercise. We used to call that exercise, carrying the stuff, going up the river almost two hundred miles sometimes, by paddling up the river with our groceries, what we needed that year. We had to take everything for camping.... And we used to paddle down after break-up, when the river was open. And when we got near the rapids we used to carry everything down, even the canoe. We used to move the camps every day, came down to see everybody in Eastmain. We used to like to do that, it used to be fun doing that, and now everything has changed.
The thing that's most dangerous now is we can't travel on our rivers anymore. The rivers don't freeze in winter anymore. That's very dangerous for a trapper, travelling from one place to another, to go through the river. And before that, before hydro, everybody went everywhere, taking shortcuts. That's where the beavers are, you know. But now it's not like that anymore; we can't even go to the rivers anymore for fish or for beaver because it's too dangerous, the rivers don't freeze anymore. And even if they do, you go right through the ice.
People who used to paddle up and down the rivers cannot use the rivers.... Today I bet you I could almost walk, if I walked along the shoreline of the Opinaca River, I bet you I could walk to C's trapline, whereas before the hydro project people used to paddle up there. Just walking on the mud flats, I'd be able to make it all the way to C's trapline.
If the river water was the same level today as it was 15, 20 years ago I would still be using the river. I would still be going up the river with my family, and down the river. If I was in the same health condition I am today, I'd still be able to do it. But as far as doing it now and in the future, it's totally impossible for me to go up the river. I saw a gorge that's about four or five miles, and the gorge there, it would probably take me a week to walk it with all my gear and my canoe and everything if I tried, it's just impossible.
And that in itself is a big change, I can't go canoeing or paddling up the Eastmain River. Only if you go in the weirs, the little weirs they built, but then again, you cannot use that as the same full course of transportation that we adapted ourselves to before. Even some of the camps that were along the way, they had camps where people would go for three or four days. Even those camps are not used anymore, they've abandoned those camps.... People don't meet there, people don't fish there, they don't get together anymore along the river.... Last summer I went up the first gorge, and I came to an area where me and my father used to hunt at one time.... Where we used to go into the channel, when I saw it last summer it was nothing but willows. There's no water, no channel; now the willows have grown there and its all bushy. And it was one of the main channels that I took.
Today if you look at the Eastmain river, it's almost impossible to use it as a route of transportation. A couple years ago I took my canoe and went up to the first rapids with my outboard motor. I walked to the second rapids! In history, when I was traveling on the river with my family, with my father, we could never shoot that rapids coming down, never mind go upstream on that rapids, we always had to portage, depending on which side you wanted to go, you could portage on both sides, because there were portage trails on both sides. A couple of years ago when I went up there, I was only wearing rubber boots, not hip waders, but rubber boots, and I walked up the river where the white water used to be. And where the white water used to be the water wasn' t even covering the rocks, I walked on the rocks right up to where the second rapids had been. On one side of the river there was a little stream, a little bit of water coming down. If I had made an effort I'm sure I could have crossed that too. But the point I'm trying to make here is, where there was once white water it's only just a small stream, just a trickle of water coming down.
I always used to be able to use this river to travel by skidoo on the trapline. Today if there was mild weather, like one mild day, there's a lot of slush, I experience more slush on the river below the reservoir. And it happens much faster, like within one day of warm weather there's a lot of slush. Where I used to skidoo with no problem before, I now get stuck in the river a lot more. And the other thing too is there're a lot of holes, more holes on the river, even in mid-winter -- you have water, then you have almost just like a snow cover instead of an ice cover. Like I said I can't mobilize myself as I would like to on the Eastmain River. I've made skidoo trails along both sides of the river just for safety purposes and just so it would be faster for me to get around.... I'm starting to lose my skidoo trails, especially where they go into the river. I lost the beginning of where a skidoo trail was because there was so much brush that had grown.
When I look at the hydro project one of the biggest things that comes to my mind is the effects that it seems to have downstream from the development, not only just on the Eastmain River but also on the Opinaca River. There's a very small amount of water. The only place that actually could be used for transportation or any small means of hunting or harvesting is where sills have been built. Even there, it doesn't match the transportation that was provided for the Crees for hunting activities before the hydro project.
In answer to your question of what I see changed and what I know is a direct result of the hydro project, it could be said in a few lines but it can only be measured in probably 150 miles. I miss the use of the river the most. From the extent of the existing reservoirs on the Eastmain River all the way down to the village of Eastmain, that was a transportation route for myself and of a lot of trappers, trappers before me and trappers during my time. I've heard of roads, of major highways within the country of Canada; this was the Trans-Canada Highway of the Crees. This is how they mobilized themselves in and out of the traplines. There's a lot of stories and a lot of things to be shared when you reflect back to the good use of the river. There is the flow, there is the real Indian aspect of being able to paddle on a river downstream and upstream. There are the other uses, not only for transportation. There's also the use of not just water transportation but ground (ice) transportation for winter movement. There's also the harvesting that goes with it. There was always good fishing on that river no matter where you stopped. And may I go on to say that along that river I have a lot of good memories of harvesting and killing black bear. I for one, just like my father, we harvested a lot of black bear along the river banks during the spring runoff. And it was always a proud moment for me to be able to paddle down the river and show up at the Cree village of Eastmain to share with my people and the other people a bear which is, in my culture, in my tradition, one of the most respected animals of the Cree Nation. And that is what I miss the most. My trapline is important, but the river will always be the most important part of my life.
On the river, you have memories as a little child, as a little boy growing up --- memories of your parents, memories of your brothers and sisters, and memories of your friends. You also have graves of your friends. What was written into my knowledge from the river is very important to me, especially at this time, knowing that I will never, ever again be able to paddle up or down that river. And another thing too is I can honestly say that nobody will ever be able to paddle on that river again. How many people that are going to be born in the future, how many of them will believe that was the way it was until the year of the development? How many of those people will question just how important it was? Even our people will eventually question the importance of this river. Because they too, themselves, will never be able to experience what I experienced, and only the memories of those will remain with me. Said in a couple of sentences, but measured in 150 miles.