The Grand Council of the Crees

Statement of grand chief Matthew Coon Come

Given at State House, Augusta, Maine

Posted: 1989-04-20

I address this statement to the governor, Legislators and citizens of Maine. I address it also to the responsible citizens the northeastern United States. The grand council of the Crees (or Québec) Represents the approximately 10.000 Cree people who live in The drainage basins already destroyed or targeted by Hydro-Québec for destruction 8etween now and the year 2004, For the provision or electricity to southern markets. My People are hunters and trappers who have occupied and taken Care of the laud and waters since time immemorial

The Cree land 15 vast it covers an area of over 140,000 square miles and is approximately equivalent in size to the states of Maine, New York and Pennsylvania when taken all together. The Cree people of northern Québec are people of the land. Born or the land and they live on the land. My People hunt, fish and trap and that is our primary economic Base. Meechum, Country food, is shared in a Cree community

And even those who spend the majority of their time in the Communities as teachers, labourers, administrators, or in other professions, consume daily the products which are harvested on the land by the Cree people. In a Cree Community a person defines himself through his knowledge of the ways of the land. He learns-how to use the land. He learns the ways or the animals.
You have probably heard of the language controversy In Québec. In the Cree communities of northern Québec the language in every day use is as it has always been~ the cue Language. You must understand some or these facts in order To understand the full import or what I am going to say today. You may never understand our way of life. But I ask you to appreciate that it is vibrant. It is growing and it is very different from your way of life. In 1972 premier Bourassa announced the James Bay project. Hydro Québec didn't even tell the Crees it was going to dam their rivers, flood their traplines and the graves or their parents. At that time the Cree communities were collections of shacks and tents around trading post Stores. My people lived on the Trophie 6 to 8 months of the Year and came together only during the summers. The shacks were overcrowded, tuberculosis was prevalent and increasingly the sick and the invalid were staying at the trading post, living off welfare.

The seriousness of the intent of the hydro electric corporation and the government or Québec was brought Home to the Cree people when hydro Québec constructed a 400 mile long paved highway through the heart of the Cree hunting Lands in 400 days. The Cree nation had never been so challenged as at this time. We wanted these hydro-electric projects stopped! The Cree people knowing that they had an impossible task Ahead of them decided to fight the project in the courts and Elsewhere. In this battle we were joined by Environmentalists.

I will not repeat the whole story, it is enough to Say that after six months of testimony, testimony from Trappers, environmentalists. Engineers, and others, the cue People stopped the La Grande project. This hard won Injunction was overturned a week later by the Québec court of Appeal. In the face of this crass show of power, the then 6,000 Cree people decided to seek a negotiated settlement. We had just one year for an agreement in principle. These Negotiations resulted in the James say and northern Québec Agreement signed in 1975. The agreement was recognized as a Constitutional instrument having precedence over other law. It was also ratified by the Québec legislature.

Under the terms of that agreement the cue people consented only to the completion of the defined L Grande Project (1975). We also secured what we felt were the Necessary conditions to escape the oppression of poverty and Gain access and participation in the main-stream Canadian Economy. We gained access as a people with assurances for the preservation of our hunting. Fishing and trapping way of Life, our language, our culture. Under the terms of the Agreement we gained what we had never had before, control of education through the Cree school board, control of health and social services. Control over the government of our Lands, a strong voice in the approval of new projects on the territory, rights in respect of the resources on the Laud, rights in respect of a modified system of justice and Police protection and guarantees of major and important Participation in the development of sub arctic Québec. This is what we gained.

We also were paid some compensation in the Agreement and while important as a fund for future Generations, the compensation was the least important aspect of the agreement. The Cree people did not sell their land through the agreements they defined their rights and secured their future.

The ecological crisis created by hydro-electric development in northern Québec has never been publicized because it conflicts with plans for further major hydro-electric development in the Cree territory. Although the Environmental consequences of the first project have not been Investigated and areas therefore, poorly understood, two mega Projects are about to begin. The Crees have refused their consent for these new projects on the grounds of their Destructive impacts upon the environment. We realize that the negative environmental impacts of the first project were misrepresented to us; we were led to believe that there would be no environmental damage.
Let's look at the La Grande project itself. Project La Grande was executed without environmental review. It was constructed without even respecting the existing Environmental regulations of the Québec government. The Project was so far advanced by the tine the agreement was signed that it was impossible to impose environmental Conditions upon it. This was exactly Québec's plan (La Grande 1975 is an environmental nightmare) and at this moment we have no idea how far the consequences of this project have gone.

We do know that our people cannot eat certain species of fish because they are so contaminated with Mercury. We do know that there are fewer and fewer geese each year. We know that whole fisheries have seen wiped out and the lands for hunting, fishing, and trapping have been severely reduced. But hydro-Québec has very carefully prevented the public, environmentalists, and other scientists from learning the full impact of the La Grande project. We ask ourselves: How can they build another project? Cut more trees, flood more land before we know the consequences of the first "project" We hear about the destruction of the Amazon Forests, but what about the destruction of the northern Forests? -the fragile green zone that takes hundreds of Years to regenerate. The forests which are being clear cut and flooded.

Today Québec says that it is going ahead with two new mega projects. The premier says that he does not need Cree consent to build these. He is wrong - Cree consent is Required and we want these projects stopped In the great whale river project, premier Bourassa Intends to flood the lands of the great whale river basin, of The Nastapoca basins of the Coates river basin, of the Boutin river basin and of the little whale river basin to Produce some two thousand megawatts of electricity to be Exported by a long transmission line to the united states. Each of these rivers has an important and virgin Fish population. Each of these rivers contributes to the Ecology of Hudson's bay or which beluga whales, elephant Seals, polar bears and arctic char form a part.
The flooding of Lake Bienville to turn it into the Major reservoir of this project will flood important muskeg Lands and ruin caribou calving grounds. This flooding will Cause the natural release into the water and the environment of mercury, which for hundreds of years to come will contaminate the fish populations, such as they will be, of the reservoir. The yearly drawdown at Lake Bienville in the wintertime will leave 600 square kilometers of mud around the lake. The annual fall in the ice cover on lake Bienville May become a trap for. Caribou herds which walk out onto the Ice, as they always do.

The thousand megawatts of power which was just bought by the New York power authority and is sealed by the Signature of Governor Cuomo will require the construction of this great whale river project according to the hydro Québec Development plan.
The next major complex after great whale river will be the Nottaway-Broadback-Ruperts project. This project will produce 8.700 megawatts of power once the 10 proposed Powerhouses are completed.

As with the great whale project, the operation of these powerhouses will be in accordance with the demand for Electricity in the south. This will involve draining the Reservoirs in winter and refilling them during the summer.

The Nottaway river and the Rupert river will be diverted toward the Broadback river system in this project. The present natural channel of the lower Broadack river will Be the main location for the powerhouses.

The water flow in the lower Broadback river will be, in the winter, ten times to twenty times the present natural flow. The present plan is to construct the project building the upstream powerhouses first. As economically required, the remaining power houses proceeding downriver will be constructed during the interim period of five to Ten or more years this increased flow will scour out the Lower- Broadback river channel. The annual fluctuation in Reservoir depth will be from twenty to sixty feet. As the Reservoirs are shallow, this will leave vast bands of mud around each reservoir.

The impacts of this project will be devastating. At least 50 Cree families will lose the most productive parts or their trap-lines or host of their hunting, fishing and trapping areas. Because the war project is to be built on forested areas and oh sensitive muskeg environments, the Project will cause the mercury contamination of the fish in those reservoirs at levels unknown anywhere.

The diversion channel of the Nottaway river to the Broadback system will not be excavated. The sensitive clays will be pumped out and will completely fill a neighbouring lake. This channel will forever be unstable. These river basins are presently an intricate and complex pattern or muskeg environments and shall lakes. They are major nesting grounds for ducks, herons, and all of the migratory waterfowl which come to our north every spring. The spilling of forty cubic kilometers of fresh water into James Bay at Rupert's bay every winter will negatively effect The trout populations, white fish populations, cisco Populations, and will have a negative effect on the ecology Of the snow goose staging grounds in Rupert's bay.

For the Cree communities, the local effects in Addition to social problems and damages to the hunting and Trapping way of life will include: loss of community water supplies, contamination of local water bodies, local erosion And silting problems and dangers to transportation.

The NBR project will require the construction of four new major transmission corridors from the Cree territory To southern Québec and the united states. This will amount to a total, including the transmission corridor from the Great whale project, or xi transmission corridors from the Cue territory to the south.

Hydro Québec, along with the ministry of energy and Resources and the minister responsible for forests, will proceed this year to heavily subsidize the complete deforestation of the Nottaway Broadback Rupert's drainage basin. Mismanagement of the Québec forests has resulted in the depletion of wood supplies. Rather than make the necessary investment in sylvicultural activities, Québec will cut the forests of the NBR basin to maintain present wood Quotas. It will use -as an excuse for not following any Environmental guidelines, the fact that it intends to flood The area to produce hydro-electricity at a later date.

One of the major areas in which Québec and Canada has been negligent in implementing the James Bay Agreement, is the regime for environmental protection, section 22. The Cree insisted during the negotiation of the agreement that such a regime be provided. To undermine the regime, Québec Has cut back on the staff and resources which should be devoted to the review of the impact of these projects. Canada has refused to legislate and apply its regime. The Crees or Québec have carried the major load or providing the environmental critiques for these projects, at their own expense. Neither Québec nor Canada are devoting the necessary resources to properly review the environmental impacts of these projects.

Quebec passed special legislation to avoid environmental review or the La Grande project in the early 70's. Quebec has already weakened the environmental review process for the future hydro-electric projects. The Complaints or hydro Québec that its environmental reports and Projects are not being properly reviewed by environment Quebec, are both a thinly veiled threat to pressure the Government for special legislation, and a tactic to cover the fact that its present environmental reports are inadequate. Building mega projects without proper environmental review is common in areas uniquely occupied by indigenous People. It is a pattern which is repeated around the world, as in the destruction of the Brazilian Rainforest by hydro-electric development and deforestation. We ask you to condemn this pattern, and we suggest that a wiser and more cautious management of the territory will, in the long run, be more beneficial for the world environment and for us all.

Your legislators have before them presently Legislative document 306. Which will allow the power Authorities to purchase means for energy conservation even When the purchase exceeds by 15% (or is it 20%?) The present Cost of the electricity to be saved. This is a very commendable action.

Investment in energy conservation will create Indus1ry in Maine. The development of local energy-saving Technologies will create local employment here in Maine. It will also save the environment for us all and give the Cree People a chance to develop at our own pace.

These projects are on Cree lands in northern Québec, but we cannot view our responsibility for the environment as being confined by boundaries we may impose. The environment is a world responsibility and we must Preserve and protect that natural heritage for future Generations.

I thank you all.