The Grand Council of the Crees

Statement of the Cree Members of COMEX, Brian Craik and Philip Awashish (Excepted from the Final Recommendation of the COMEX): The future of Cree society and the project

Statement of the Cree Members of COMEX, Brian Craik and Philip Awashish (Excepted from the Final Recommendation of the COMEX): The future of Cree society and the project

Posted: 0000-00-00

This section was written by the Cree members of COMEX with the consent and support of members named by the Government of Québec. Since the subjects covered originated in the concerns expressed at the public hearings in Cree communities, it seemed appropriate that Cree members take the initiative to respond.

On the benefits of the project and the continuation of Cree Society

This statement is made with the consent and support of all of the Members of the Review Committee. As it concerns matters that are most appropriately expressed by the Crees appointed members to the Cree People, it is made as a personal communication from them.

During the public hearings the review bodies heard testimony from a variety of Crees and Québecois witnesses and a number of points of view on the project have been expressed, which are here summarized as follows:

"The project should not be built so as to protect the natural ecology of the area or to preserve God's creation, as it is perfect in itself";

"Times have changed and the Cree way of life that was once solely provided for by the food harvested from Eeyou Istchee and by the goods and cash provided through the trade of furs is in fact now far more dependent on store-bought foods and on the economic input from the larger economy and on the employment and economic opportunity that this provides;"

"Whatever natural or spiritual forces determined the geographical nature of the area, it was predisposed by its design to hydropower development;"

"The project will provide a significant contribution to helping to slow the use of hydrocarbons that contribute to the phenomenon of global warming that is presently causing local and global changes in climate;"

"The project will provide cost effective and environmentally advantageous light and heat for hundreds of thousands of people and energy for economic development that will benefit Québec society, including the Cree Nation, and the larger economy;"

"The the project should not be built because these lands are Cree lands and the Crees do not want the project to be built;"

"The the project should not be built because it could bring an incremental negative impact to the rapid culture change that the Crees are experiencing and have been for the last 50 years. This has brought negative health (obesity, diabetes, etc.) and social impacts (increased family violence, changes in values, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.) and the project will not help resolve these problems;"

"The project is accepted because it was part of a larger agreement and because of the financial benefits and those to come from employment and contracts, including those on remedial works stemming from the review process and also stemming form the Boumhounan Committee."

The New Relationship Agreement tells us that the project was consented to by the Crees as a condition of the out-of-court settlement on how Québecés obligations to the Crees under the 1975 James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement would be fulfilled for 50 years and that if it is approved by the social and environmental impact review process, the decision will be accepted by the Crees.

We have been involved in the review of this project for over three years and given its design, we believe that the impacts are significant but manageable. There will not be any species lost as a result, although there will be habitat lost to flooding and consequent decrease of certain animal populations. The trappers will have to adapt to new circumstances including some habitat loss, which in the case of fish will require remedial measures. The social and cultural impacts of this project can be dealt with in a positive way, if the Crees are willing to do so. Moreover, in our view the lines of causal connection that might link project to social and health impacts are not lines of primary cause and in all cases can be avoided or managed. The statement of the Cree Health Board to this effect confirms our views in this matter.

The choice to proceed with the construction of this project has a fundamental spiritual aspect that addresses all of these issues. Strict economic determinism, if applied to this project, as it was apparently applied to the decision of divert 100% of the Eastmain River in the 1970és, would see 100% of the Rupert River diverted at a chosen diversion point. This would increase the production of the La Grande Project not by 14% but by 20%, which would doubtlessly increase the positive economic value of the project derived from its production of electricity. It would make this project worth billions of dollars more to the economy.

This was not however the decision made by the promoter in conjunction with representatives of the Cree Nation. Moreover, since the Eastmain diversion, governments have regulated river diversions so that there would have to be measures to protect fish habitat, migratory bird habitat and that of other fauna, if the project would be accepted. They therefore decided to design a project that would be of significant economic benefit and also would preserve the greatest majority of the ecological productivity and diversity of the area and the related cultural activities. It is our belief that this choice is a commitment made by the larger society in the protection of an area of significant ecological importance and also shows respect for the Cree wish not only to participate in development of the region, but to continue to pursue and adapt their hunting, fishing and trapping way of life to the new economic realities of the territory. The fur trade is no longer the mainstay of the Cree economy, as that it once was.

While immediately after construction the damages to the ecology of the river and diversion areas will be substantial, over time this will lessen as the aquatic and terrestrial fauna and vegetation re-colonize the exposed areas and adapt to these changes. We expect that all of the fish species will survive and thrive in the new water bodies. We expect the land animals and avian fauna to continue to use the area in numbers similar to those found today, while losing a portion of their habitat to flooding in the diversion area. The Review Committee has required the promoter work with the Crees who occupy this area through long-term (20 to 30 years) joint efforts to promote the recovery of the natural ecosystem, to learn from this process and to allow the traditional Cree users of these areas and their resources to re-appropriate their traditional knowledge of the land and its resources and to re-establish their spiritual relationships with it.

The Cree decision to sign the New Relationship Agreement was a decision to accept the possibility that this project, with certain pre-review conditions set out in the Boumhounan Agreement, might be approved by the review process. It was in other words, a decision that reflected the Cree understanding that certain defined hydropower development might continue. It was in fact a brave decision and reflected an age-old Cree capacity to take risks for the benefit of their society. In this case, the risk taken was that the benefits of the New Relationship and Boumhounan Agreements would out-weigh the damages to be caused by the project, if approved. There is not a Cree hunter who does not understand the risks to life involved in hunting or that there are potentials in the territory that are yet to be discovered.

Moreover, the decision to sign the New Relationship Agreement was a decision subscribed to by almost 70% of the Cree electors in a secret ballot managed by the Cree communities themselves, at their request.

Development is a fact of modern life that will not go away as it is driven by population growth, economic growth and by technological advancement. Modernity, the changes brought to societies by new proposals and new technologies is something to which all people and all Peoples must adapt. Some will adapt to it by turning their backs to it, but it will transform the world around them anyway.

The choices that people make in their day to day lives in allocating their resources and time and in expressing their preferences are crucial to the type of impact that these changes will bring to their health and well-being. In the Cree world the sources of change are many, from population increase, to changes in the Cree economy, changes of access to and from the territory, increased availability of new varieties of food and consumer products, increased exposure to other languages and to other values and new information through mass media, changes brought to the territory by education, by hydropower, forestry and by mining development, to name a few.

Decisions made in respect to all of these by Canada, Québec, and the Cree Nation and by the individuals touched by these changes play a large role in determining whether the impacts of each of these sources of change are positive or negative. Governments and their institutions have a responsibility to protect their citizens and citizens have the responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.

To point to any one of these sources of change as the primary or only cause of negative impacts is to deny the complexity of how such factors work together and over time. What is important to the Crees is that they face the future and all of these realities and that they continue to bend and shape forces of change to their advantage. The Crees must continue to be guided by their spirit, traditions and values while seeking all opportunities to maintain and advance their own well-being in all senses of this term: physical, social and spiritual. They must also continue their tradition of maintaining positive relations with the larger society.