The comments in this file are organized according to themes, and are based on interviews with Eastmain and Wemindji hunters and trappers done by Colin Scott and Kreg Ettenger, transcribed August 1994, and held in the archives of the Grand Council of the Crees, 27 Bayswater avenue, Ottawa, Ont. K1Y 2E4. The subject of these interviews was the impact of the James Bay hydro project works on the Eastmain-Wemindji area. Respondents are identified only by number. These are from Vol 2, Part A, pps 138-150. Edited slightly for publication on this Web site.
Impact on the land
Impact on water quality
Impact on weather and the seasons
Note: individual species are named in black type to aid archival search.
The dotted line indicates a new speaker.
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.
It really affects also the land when you close the rivers, because the land needs the river to survive, needs the current.
Back in 1965 I was with some people that were studying the forest; they were cutting trees, trying to determine the age, they were also measuring the trees, they were doing some kind of a forestry study. I was with them for part of the summer. And we were going around, like up rivers and down the river and on lakes, traveling by canoe. And that's one of the things I noticed, is the different attitude toward fire, like camp fires and things like that. Sometimes we'd stop over for a lunch, we'd have our lunch there, the fire would still be going and the guy would say, "Come on, let's go, we're out of here, one hour is gone, it's time to move." And the fire is still going. But the way I was taught, I was supposed to pour water on it, make sure the last ash is dead.
There's another thing that influences the geese (Canadas and wavies) to migrate inland, that's the land coming up along the coast. When I used to hunt at Old Factory, the old man showed me a bay where there used to be lots of geese. Now there's none, because it's all dried up. The places where they feed drain as the land comes up, so more of them fly inland.
Where we were camping for goose hunting one time, the old people can show you a place that has goose blinds made with stones that used to be near the water; now they're way up in the trees, even further from the shore than where the camp is now.
On L.'s territory, there is a quite high hill toward the inland, where the old people say there is still cedar driftwood way up on the side of the hill. They say that must have been a beach, long time ago. The old people could say more about that.
Q: Do all fish or all animals like water that's moving fast or is clean? Do you know of any fish or animal species that likes water that's very still or that has debris in it or is dirty?
A: For fish I cannot say that all fish like current, water that has a flow. Nature wanted it this way, that some fish will be in lakes, like say the lake trout for instance, it can go on large lakes, you can have a smaller species that could go on smaller lakes. They were there from day one, that's their home, they've adapted to that. But the ones that were made to live in current, in fresh water, running current, those are the ones that have difficulties adapting to this change.
Q: How important is clean water to you as a trapper? Do you see that as affecting the rest of your land, the rest of your trapline?
A: The question of good water or fresh water, the importance of water: to a hunter or trapper it's one of the most important aspects of everyday life. If you have good water on your trapline you can have good trappers, good health, you're going to have good fish, good animals. It's always very important to all hunters when they select camps, they select areas where there's a good quality of water. It's always been like that, it will always be like that. It's an important factor not only to human life, also to all animal life.
All the rivers on the bay are contaminated. If the water isn't moving, it's contaminated. That's what's wrong with all our rivers today, they're not moving anymore. They're all still, like lakes.
When the water level in the Eastmain River is so low, not only does it affect the Eastmain and Opinaca Rivers, but all the little rivers that come into them.
Don't forget the river still flows free in here, so there's clean water, (whereas over) here you have water that's been tampered with, water that's got dead trees. Reservoir water is not good water, where you still have a flow you have good water.
I remember when we used to live with my dad, we used to eat fish all the time, especially from the lakes, and we used to drink water right from the lake. Now we can't. The water's all black now. And you can't eat as much fish as you want now, because it's contaminated with mercury. Even where we're at (one of the coastal traplines), it's still affected by the hydro project. It's all black, the water's black, you can't eat the fish too much, everything is all affected by the James Bay project.
On the Coldwater Lake, where we used to hunt, there used to be over six feet of water, seven feet of water. But now there's only three, four feet of water, that's all we have. It's all black now, you can't even drink it.
Q: Why is there less water, why has the water quality changed, do you think?
A: Well, I don't know, because the main rivers are all closed, I guess. The Eastmain River is all closed, there's no current at all. So all the other lakes go down, I guess, the big lakes, the water starts to go down. Because there's no current from anywhere, the water's turning black because it needs current to keep the water fresh. So the main source of wherever the water came from must have been closed.
It really affects everybody, it affects everything, the hydro project. Even the birds that fly around, the geese and the ducks and everything.... Because geese need fresh water, all creatures need fresh water. Because the Eastmain River, you cannot drink it, it's salt water. The creatures cannot drink it, it's salt water. The bears cannot drink it. So they have to drink from the small rivers, and the water is black. So if it's no good for a human being to drink water from the creeks, how come it's good for creatures like bears? It affects everybody, it affects all the animals, especially the drinking water. You should see the river, the small rivers that we have here. They're black, black water, it's never been like that before.
Like I said before, the main stream must have been cut somewhere, because it's never been like that a long time ago, never seen it like that a long time ago. I guess it comes from the James Bay project. Once they closed the Eastmain River, everything's been changed after that.
Q: So when water sits too long, doesn't have enough current, doesn't have enough flow, it tends to get this discoloration?
A: Oh, yeah, because you need current to have fresh water. If you build a small lake, and you have no current at all, if you check that in two, three years, you're going to have that green stuff all around the lake, because it needs current to clarify the water.
Q: What kind of green stuff, is this algae?
A: I don't know what they call it, it's sort of a slime that forms around the lake. So the water turns black, you wouldn't be able to drink it. The bears come to it and drink it, it affects the animals.
Q: What about the beaver, what do they think of that?
A: I think it really affects the beaver too, the water, because they sort of disappear, even if you don't trap them. Either they die natural deaths, or I guess they sort of disappear. Because the water's too black, you can't drink it. I guess they start to have some, like one beaver I killed last fall, it had those lice, whatever you call them. It had so many on the fur, so they're starting to have these because there's no current. You need fresh water to clean out the fur, I guess, clean themselves, but there's no fresh water, the water's too calm, the water stays dirty all the time.
There were some white people that were here about twenty years ago, right here on the reserve, in the community, and it's about that time that we noticed there were some people there too at that Jack River, and all up along the rivers. And we noticed that everything that's in the water wasn't as good as before, because we noticed there was some gas on top of the water when the ice broke, the ice wasn't as good as it was before, like we noticed there was some gas spilled on the rivers.... We think that maybe it was coming from when they were fueling the planes. They used a lot of planes and helicopters at that time, going everywhere with the planes, upriver and down river, everywhere, and they spilled a lot of gas on the rivers.... Of course we noticed that they weren't as careful as a person that owned that piece of land to hunt and trap on. Maybe that's why they weren't careful, because they thought that they were going to do something with land anyway, what's the use of looking after it? As long as I can remember I was taught how to be careful with the land and the water itself, because a Native person will never ever get water from the river with a dirty dipper or a burnt dipper, you'd always have to clean up the dipper before getting the water from the river. And we never ever threw any garbage along the beach or in the water itself, because of the fish that we knew were there and of the animals that would come and eat the garbage. It was always burnt in the same place, it was kept clean. The person that hunts and traps on a piece of land that's his is always very careful never to throw any garbage anywhere. And ever since we knew these guys that were coming in on that river we knew that there was garbage coming down the river and some gas as well.
And the other thing I've noticed is about the leftovers, what we refer to as the garbage. They were working out of my camp, where I have my cabin, now I have it on a lake, they were working out of there. And one of the things that I noticed, I always take my garbage to one area, I burn it. I left those guys alone for a few days, a week, and when I came back I noticed that the garbage was 20, 25 feet in the water. That's not the way I was taught. I was taught that I could bury it, or burn it. But I see that on my trapline all the time. So they don't have the same attitude towards the environment, the land.
The reason for not using a dirty dipper or burnt container to get water out of the river was because of the fish that were in the river, and also the beaver. The beaver used to be on the river as well as the fish, and some other animals as well going down to drink the water. Because when you use a dirty dipper or burnt one, all the animals will smell it and they'd vanish or disappear or go somewhere else. So that was the reason people were very careful not to use any dirty container to get drinking water out of the river, because of the beaver and the fish and all the other animals, and it's the same thing with the birds. We're still very careful about not throwing garbage everywhere because of the animals, if things are smelling very bad they won't come near, and if the land is dirty they're not going to be there either, they're not going to be anywhere near the dirty land.
Q: Has that been happening to the land or the water, has it been getting dirtier?
A: For sure, that's why we don't have any more animals around here, because of all the pollution and the dirty water coming in from upriver. We don't know where it's coming from but it's there, it?s coming down river. The fish won't be near the dirty, polluted water, and neither will beaver, and neither are the other animals. That's the reason why people kept their lands clean, because of the animals that they didn't want to stray away from the piece of land they owned, that's the reason for all these years and years of looking after our land and waters, because of the animals and the fish.
And the other thing is, even the weather seems to have changed, and our rivers don't freeze anymore like they used to. When we're supposed to have cold weather, like in January and February, even the weather seems to have turned around on us, when it's supposed to be cold it's not, when it's supposed to be hot it's cold, and everything seems to have changed, including the weather.
...the other thing I really notice is the weather, the weather is changing. For one thing, there are early snowfalls in the fall, as early as August. And also, I find it colder, much colder every year than it was.
The other thing that I've seen that has a lot of effect is the change of weather; the change of seasons. Especially this spring, ever since I can remember I don't remember a spring to be that long; it was the longest spring I've ever seen. There's been a lot of changes in the seasons; everything used to be really normal and you could predict how long the spring would be, now you can't predict anything. This spring we had north wind for three weeks straight; we never used to have that. There's a guy from the United States, some kind of biologist, who made a prediction during the negotiations that the weather patterns are going to change when you have big reservoirs like these; it's either going to be very cold in the winter or very hot in the summer. And this winter it was really cold and a lot of the trappers had to wait here for about a month and a half to get up there. It was really cold this winter; normally in the middle of April or at the end of April, that time of the year the ice would be about two feet thick. This year on that same week (mid-April) it was forty-five feet of ice. It doesn't just affect that area, you can feel it at the coast as well.
And another thing is that the tides are not normal like they used to be. The tide used to be every five to six hours, Now as soon as the tide goes out, it comes right back in again. I was watching it the other day, it was going out like hell and next thing I knew it was coming in again. When I used to go out, the tide would stay for a few hours and go back the other way, now the tide is just going back and forth. I remember in Old Factory, that's the only reason we moved out of Old Factory, because the tide was always low and we had to wait for two or three hours before we could get out. Now you don't have to wait; the tide goes out and comes right back in again.
Q: How do the hydro reservoirs influence the tide?
A: It influences the winds, the winds have a lot to do with the tide, in every direction the wind is coming from. If you keep track of all these things you find out there are a lot of changes.
1Q: Have the summers changed? Have summers become longer?
A: I think they are on the cool side. I remember, three years in a row I kept track of it, it was really hot but only for two weeks. It used to be hot for about six or seven weeks in the summer. I'd say the summers are a little colder then they normally were.
Q: Since the project, have you noticed any changes in seasonal weather?
A: Yes, since the project was built, it doesn't freeze-up as early as before. I can't fly out from the lake anymore, especially around where the road is. All that is due to the project, that's where it comes from.
Q: Do you notice a change in weather since the hydro dams?
A: Yes there have been changes in the weather. Like I heard one time on the radio, I like listening to Native news on the CBC network at mid-day, they were saying that the ice on a river was five feet thick and that vehicles could go on the ice, they said that was unusual for down south, so I think this year has been extremely cold everywhere.
Q: When did you first start noticing that the winters are getting colder?
A: Not that long ago and I can't say that I know why but even the summers seem shorter.
The Crees realize something else that has changed since the dams and the power lines. It is colder than before. The cold season lasts longer in the fall, and summer, and while it's hot, it seems to take longer before it gets cold. It stays warm longer. Then once the cold season hits, it gets very cold and colder, using the thermometer to measure the cold, the temperatures show how very cold it gets. The weather forecast we hear on CBC Cree News from Montreal, they tell us what the temperature will be in the James Bay area in the winter but they are always wrong because it is much colder than they predict. Their predictions are never accurate. It is much colder. The Crees have found this since the dams and power lines were built. Before the dams, when the cold season arrived it got cold but not as cold as it is now, nor did it stay cold for such a long period. One of my sons can read the thermometer very well, he was the one checking it and said it was probably much lower than it read. That is how one knows and it is because there are too many power lines going all over the inland area. It warms up for a little while then turns cold very fast and stays colder longer. It really gets cold around the power line poles, when it is windy the cold is blown all around all over, when the wind switches direction the cold goes that way too. That is the other reason Crees believe it gets much colder here, and it is even much colder around the dams. Especially if you are outside. If other dams are built and more power lines are put up, it will be very, very cold in the middle of winter. These cold spells will be very harsh. The power lines are very hot and the cold air hits them. The hot air around the power lines gets blown away from the lines and turns into very cold air and this is why it's so cold. It is also believed that the air around the dams has changed a lot. The hot air doesn't stay where it used to be long before these dams were built. The air was the same way at the appropriate seasons, not like today. The way it used to be it wasn't as cold as now. The weather forecast from Montreal has wrong predictions, up here their predictions are always way off. Very few times their predictions hit the right temperature. So the person can predict from these predictions with his own by comparing and noting the difference from his and their predictions. Maybe they'll do a survey/study on this in the future, before and after the dams and compare. Also where the power lines run and where there aren't any at all, maybe way up north where no power lines run anywhere, way past the Chisasibi (La Grande) River, maybe the Crees could do this survey using thermometers and CB radios, and then compare how cold each place is. Then we will prove that these power lines cause these drastic changes in the weather and temperature.
One of the things that people have noticed along the coast, and not just around the reservoirs, is the amount of snowfall has increased, because of all the water surface in the region; like not just the Bay now, but also the reservoirs to the north and east inland. Ice conditions have also changed along the coast. The ice has been going faster in the spring, since the hydro project, and this has affected the waterfowl migration along the coast, too.
Q: Do you have any idea what would have been the connection between the ice going out earlier and the hydro project?
A: It probably has something to do with the amount of fresh water that's coming into the Bay now; like it's increased from the La Grande.