The Grand Council of the Crees

Presentation of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and of The Cree Regional Authority

The Eastmain 1-A Rupert Project, by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2006-05-04


I want to begin this presentation by rendering homage to the late Sam Awashish who recently lost his life on his trapline, by falling through the ice on a lake. This was an experienced hunter, trapper and fisherman who is, to some extent, a victim of the climate changes which are affecting James Bay. In James Bay, increased reservoirs have contributed to unpredictable ice conditions and climate changes which have resulted in trappers being unable to predict weather patterns as they did before. This shows us that concern for the environment is a matter which resonates very close to home for all of us.

Sam's knowledge of the land provided guidance and allowed healing of our hurts and pains as a result of dramatic changes within Eeyou lstchee. His transfer and sharing of his knowledge to own children and youth is an inspiration to all of us who want to keep the Cree Nation closely tied to the land and to our traditions and culture. I wish to dedicate this presentation to the memoryof Sam Awashish.


The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the Cree Regional Authority (GCC(EI)-CRA) form together the regional government structure of the Cree Nation of Quebec.

Pursuant to our treaty and to provincial and federal legislations, the GCC(EI)?CRA represents the James Bay Crees and provides the consent of the James Bay Crees when required under our treaty or under legislation.

The GCC(EI)-CRA is a democratically elected body fully representative of the Cree Nation as a whole. Our governing body comprises all the elected Chiefs of each of our ten communities, a second representative elected by each community through secret ballot, and a Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief elected by the Cree Nation as a whole through secret ballot. The GCC(EI)-CRA is thus the representative voice of the Cree Nation as a whole.

There are many preoccupations and concerns within the Cree Nation about the Eastmain 1-A/Rupert Project. The elected representatives of the Cree Nation have had the privilege to have discussed face to face this project with many Crees from each of our communities, and they have talked to many Elders, Youth, and community leaders.

We can assure you that the Cree Nation as a whole maintains a strong attachment to Eeyou lstchee, as we call our traditional land. Eeyou Istchee has in the past and still today supports our families with its wealth of animals and other resources, and provides our people with a spiritual and cultural identity. It defines us as a people, it determines who we are. Our land is our life. In light of this, rest assured that what we have come to tell you today is important both to us and to Quebec and Canada as a whole.


Crees have occupied, used and benefited from Eeyou Istchee since time immemorial. Until recently, we have led a life entirely based on the land and the wildlife it supports. We also shared a way of life in relative isolation from the rest of the World. Many of us have been raised in the bush and have enjoyed living a simple but healthy and rewarding life based on hunting, trapping and fishing.

All this came to somewhat a sudden end in the early 1970's when the then government of Robert Bourassa announced its "project of the Century", namely the planned development of the vast hydroelectric potential of James Bay. This of course was done without our consent, and without even informing us. We were then deemed squatters on our own lands, an impediment to "development", an inconsequential and troublesome leftover of the past, a people without any rights and who could simply be moved around to accommodate so-called "progress".

We decided to fight in the early 1970's, and to a large extent this fight is still continuing to this day. We fought for our rights, for the preservation of our way of life, for our prosperity and that of our children. Against all odds we prevailed before the courts. Justice Malouf issued his injunction to halt the construction of the hydro facilities until our rights and interests had been properly dealt with. This of course came as a great surprise to most Quebecers and Canadians as for the first time in Canadian history a judge had the courage to give real meaning and force to our rights. Unfortunately, to our dismay and disbelief, the Quebec Court of Appeal suspended the Malouf injunction.

However, the governments of Quebec and Canada were sufficiently shaken by the Malouf decision that they finally agreed to enter into a treaty with us, thus leading to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975.

In light of the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal, we had little choice but to accept to enter into this treaty. We did not want hydroelectric development. We had no experience with it. We wanted our way of life to be preserved. Government officials told us that our way of life could be preserved through the treaty, and that hydroelectric development would bring new riches to our land, riches in which we could share to build a better future for ourselves and future generations.

Our people agreed to compromise. Hydroelectric development was to be made more compatible with the Cree way of life by the JBNQA. The technical descriptions of the La Grande project were modified so as to address some of the Cree concerns. We agreed that some defined form of hydroelectric development could proceed in exchange for very substantial protections, rights and guarantees in our treaty.

Among these was the promise by both Canada and Quebec to ensure that future hydroelectric development would be subject to full and thorough federal and provincial review through independent bodies which would assess the acceptability of projects based on their impacts on our way of life and on our rights. Thus came into being Section 22 of the JBNQA, the first environmental and social impact assessment process in Canada.

In the JBNQA, the governments also recognized that our hunting, fishing and trapping activities would be fully protected, and so came into being Section 24 of the JBNQA, a special regime to ensure our exclusive rights over the wildlife of the territory.

In the JBNQA, the governments promised us that we would benefit greatly from the economic spin-offs of hydroelectric development, that we would in fact be principal beneficiaries of this development which would sustain our future community and economic development, and so came into being Section 28 of the JBNQA concerning economic and social development.

In the JBNQA the governments also recognized that we would set up all the institutions and services of a modern State, including regional government, social and health services, education services, policing services, justice services, etc, and so came about numerous sections of the JBNQA related to such matters.

Need we point out that as soon as the governments got our signature, they ran away and forgot most of their promises. If anything, the JBNQA has been honored in its breach by governments. I give you but one example among many. In Section 18 of the JBNQA, Canada was to fund a prison in Northern Quebec and a multitude of services related to judicial matters. We are talking about many pages of detailed commitments by Canada. Yet to date Canada has spent virtually nothing to implement these promises. Here we are more than thirty years after the signature of our treaty and still we are awaiting fulfillment of Canada's undertakings.

Quebec was not much better at fulfilling its promises. We had to struggle relentlessly to see our treaty implemented. It was a painful and difficult battle each time just to get the governments to do what they had promised.

While we were struggling to get our treaty rights implemented, the rest of Quebec and Canada were reaping the huge economic benefits of James Bay hydroelectric development. Just to place things into perspective, you should keep in mind that one of every two light bulbs in this room runs on electricity supplied from our traditional territory. James Bay electricity has become the economic engine of Quebec. Our traditional territory is and remains the principal economic asset of Quebec. Despite this, both Quebec and Canada found every possible excuse not to implement our treaty, and the "nickel and dime" approach was favored by almost all the bureaucrats whom we had to deal with.

By 1990, we had gotten thoroughly fed-up with this. The Cree Nation decided that the time for discussion and compromise had come to an end, since the only party compromising in this was the Cree party. The Cree Nation took two fundamental decisions: First, we would initiate massive litigation against both governments for breach of our treaty and refusal to implement its terms. Second, we would refuse any further hydroelectric development of our territory.

Throughout the 1990's we maintained these positions. After initiating several court actions, we opposed the then proposed Great Whale Project. We need not discuss at length this subject, but I wish to remind you that we gathered support for our cause around the World and showed to Quebec and to Canada that we were a force to reckon with. We wanted our rights respected, and if we could not achieve this, then we were determined to ensure that Quebec and Canada would not reap the economic benefits of our land through new hydro development. Needless to point out that we were entirely successful and the Great Whale Project was finally withdrawn by Quebec.

But this did not end our struggle, we continued with our court actions with the clear determination to see them through. We continued to oppose any development in our lands which did not include us. We continued to fight.

After close to 15 years of long and difficult battles, the Quebec government decided it was time to open a new dialogue with the Cree Nation, and so came into being the agreement generally referred to as the Paix des braves. It is however appropriate to point out that our fight still continues against Canada which has yet to fulfill its treaty obligations. Canada's inaction in fulfilling it obligations from 1975 is limiting our ability to fully participate in the future development of the territory.


The context in which the Paix des braves was reached has been described. It was a context in which governments were refusing to implement the JBNQA and in which consequently the Crees had decided to block any future hydroelectric development in James Bay.

In 2002, Quebec proposed to bury the hatchet with the Crees. It proposed to forge a new alliance between itself and the Cree Nation, an alliance based on respect of our treaty rights, on partnership in the development of the territory and on mutual cooperation.

Many in the Cree camp were fearful that again these promises would be breached, that the objective of the government was simply to secure Cree consent for another hydroelectric project, and that once the project would be approved, the government would again find ways not to respect its commitments.

Others in the Cree camp believed Quebec, and were ready to embark on a new chapter in our on-going relationship.

In light of these divergent views, the Paix des braves was brought to the Cree people for approval or rejection. After extensive consultations in a series of community referenda, the Crees approved the agreement with the support of about 70% of those who voted. It is useful to note that all the communities which are located within the Rupert River basin approved the agreement with very large majorities in each community.

The Cree people have spoken.

The Paix des braves has many aspects to it, including a new innovative approach to the implementation of the economic and community development provisions of the JBNQA through an annual payment of $70 million indexed to the value of natural resources extracted from our territory. It also contains numerous provisions concerning forestry and mining. However, for the purposes of this presentation, we will focus on some provisions of the Paix des braves dealing with hydro development.

Section 4.11 of the Paix des braves specifically states that in consideration of that Agreement, "the Crees consent to the carrying out of the Eastmain 1-A Project." As noted above, the Paix des braves was accepted by the Cree Nation in a referendum, including this component of that agreement. It is important to note that this required Cree consent does not extend to any other future hydroelectric project.

The Paix des braves also states that the project will be submitted to a full and thorough assessment of its environmental and social impacts. Section 4.12 of the Paix des braves sets out the following:

"4.12 The Eastmain I-A Project will be subject to the applicable environmental legislation and to the environmental and social protection regime stipulated in Section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement according to the terms of that Section."

It is your responsibility to ensure that this commitment is fulfilled. This means in particular ensuring that the following guiding principles set out under paragraph 22.2.3 of the JBNQA be properly taken into account:

In ensuring that these principles are fully taken into account, schedule 3 of Section 22 of the JBNQA also requires you to look at reasonable alternatives to the project. As the JBNQA stipulates:

"These alternatives should be considered with a view to optimize as much as reasonably possible the positive effect of development on the environment, taking into account environmental, socio-economic and technical considerations and to minimize negative impacts including impacts on the affected population, as reasonably as possible. Where the gross impact of alternative actions differs significantly, the analysis should be sufficiently detailed to permit the comparative assessment of the costs, benefits, and the environmental risk to the different interested populations between the proposed project and the available options."

In addition, under the JBNQA, should you determine that the project meets the requirements stipulated in the JBNQA, you must then include reasonable remedial and corrective measures to reduce or alleviate the negative impacts of the proposed project on the Crees, on the wildlife resources of the territory and on the quality of the environment in general.

The JBNQA also requires you to impose "measures aimed at enhancing positive impacts induced by the project". It is important to note that these remedial and corrective measures are not limited to those set out under the Boumhounan Agreement, since that agreement specifically states in its sections 4.1 and 4.3 that the measures set out therein complement but do not replace the project design and operating parameters or the remedial, mitigating and other measures which may result from the environmental and social impact review process you are carrying out.

These obligations set out in the JBNQA extend as well to the Federal panel set up under CEM in light of the terms of the "Agreement concerning the Environmental Assessments of the Eastmain 1-A/Rupert Project" signed in 2002, which specifically provides that the assessment and review of the project by all the Review and Assessment Bodies will include and fully take into account the elements provided by Section 22 of the JBNQA, including ecological and sociological impacts of the project and the justification of the project. The parties specifically entered into this agreement in order to avoid the legal and jurisdictional problems that have been encountered in the past with Canada in particular in regard to the assessment of projects in James Bay.

The commitment of both the Grand Chief and the Premier of Quebec to the integrity of your process was again recently reaffirmed a month ago when both leaders met. At this occasion, both the Grand Chief and the Premier specifically "confirmed that Cree concerns relating to the environmental and social impacts of the proposed project must be taken into account as contemplated by the JBNQA" and also agreed that the "Cree leadership and Quebec will abide by and fully respect the review process as a valid process." These are quotes from the joint press release resulting from the meeting.

Your mandate and authorities are thus clear and strong.

The Cree Nation thus encourages you to carry out with the greatest rigor and professionalism this important task which has been entrusted to you at the highest levels by Canada, Quebec and the Cree Nation, and we fully expect you to deal with these issues in the best interest of the Cree Nation and of Quebec and Canada as a whole.


As you are certainly aware, most of the massive La Grande (1975) project was never subjected to any prior environmental or social impact review, although a post project evaluation of the social impacts on the Cree traditional way of life was recently carried out. However, this does not mean that this massive project had no impacts. On the contrary, the La Grande (1975) project has had massive disruptive impacts on the environment generally and on the Crees in particular. The Cree Nation is still healing its wounds resulting from this project. In our view, not enough attention has been given to the massive social impacts which have resulted on Cree individuals, Cree families and Cree communities. We would like to share with you some of these impacts, not as an exercise in complaining and dwelling on the past, but rather to make you aware of the impacts we have suffered so as to allow you to take into account in your review and analysis the cumulative impacts of the diversion project you are currently entrusted to review.

At this moment we still have no idea how far the social and environmental consequences of the La Grande (1975) project have gone. We know that many of our people do not eat certain species of fish taken from the reservoirs, because they are still contaminated with mercury. We know that our largest community, Chisasibi, moved to accommodate the project and that this move has since deeply affected this community. We know there are fewer and fewer geese each year along the coast perhaps as a result of the die-back of eelgrass in certain areas in James Bay. We know that whole fisheries have been wiped out in the lower La Grande and in the Eastmain River. We know that hunting, fishing and trapping have been severely reduced in many areas and may never return to previous levels. However, we know little of the details because Hydro-Quebec controlled many of the studies on wildlife and of other aspects of the studies involving the La Grande (1975) project area, effectively replacing government and thereby impeding independent expertise and studies to be carried out on many aspects. Because there was no establishment of base year data before the construction of the La Grande (1975) project, we will never know the extent of the losses. This we do not find acceptable. Is it possible to build a new massive hydro project without fully understanding the impacts of the existing La Grande (1975) project? This is a question that you will need to answer objectively and truthfully.

Based on our past experience with the La Grande (1975) project, we expect some very serious detrimental impacts to result from the Rupert diversion. For the families directly affected, these impacts will change forever their lives. Many families will lose the most productive parts of their hunting, fishing and trapping areas. Major nesting grounds for the ducks, herons, and other migratory waterfowl will be affected. There will be negative impacts on the trout, cisco, sturgeon, and whitefish populations. Sociological problems will result from the flooding of the land, pushing families whose lands are flooded into adjacent trapline areas, affecting negatively both the spiritual and physical ties of the affected Cree communities with the land. Drinking water may be affected for Waskaganish and the families living along the river. We can expect increased erosion along the banks of the La Grande River resulting from the increased flow diverted from the Rupert River. We can expect silting problems and we can see the end of the use of the Rupert as a viable navigation route. These are just some of the impacts.

Indeed, the diversion of a river of this magnitude is unprecedented in Quebec, and perhaps in all of North America. To pretend, as Hydro-Quebec does, that no or little detrimental impacts will result from this is simply not credible. We know otherwise.

For the Cree Nation, unfortunately, the issue is not all black and white. Though we know that there will be important detrimental impacts from this project, we are keenly aware that Quebec and Canada and a large section of North America needs electricity to sustain their economies and a certain vision of the "good life". We are also keenly aware that sustaining the North-American "good life" means sacrificing to some extent the Cree traditional vision of what constitutes a "good life". What we are not ready to accept however is having our way of life and our environment affected without reasonable opportunities and alternatives being guaranteed to us for our continued survival as a people.

We are now facing new challenges, many of which have been brought about by the impacts of the La Grande (1975) project. The vast majority (60%) of our population is less than 25 years old. Our population has grown to such an extent that a sustainable life based on hunting, trapping and fishing is no longer possible for most of us. The communities have evolved over time from a traditional economy to a salaried economy. We are thus facing major economic and community development challenges of our own. Our values are also changing and we are re-creating our own vision for the future of our people.

These are the very challenges and opportunities, which you, as committee members will have to review and assess.

Though we know that this development will bring negative impacts and social disruption, we are also aware that it has positive aspects, not least of which is the end of the gruesome and totally unacceptable NBR project referred to in the JBNQA. Indeed, under the terms of Complementary Agreement no. 13 to the JBNQA, Hydro-Quebec and SEBJ have agreed to renounce to the NBR project should the Eastmain 1-A/Rupert Project be authorized. This is an important consideration for the Cree Nation.

Moreover, the Project, if authorized, will also bring new employment and contract opportunities for the Crees. In this regard, please note that the contract and employment opportunities set out in the Boumhounan Agreement are minimum undertakings.


As you can easily understand from this presentation, many challenges and dilemma face the Cree Nation. We will meet these challenges and face up to these dilemmas.

The Cree Nation and Quebec have entered into commitments under the Paix des braves. The Cree Nation will respect these commitments. We fully expect the government of Quebec and Hydro-Quebec to do the same.

The GCC(EI)-CRA will work with your committees and the governments of Quebec and Canada to ensure that a full and complete social and environmental impact assessment of the project is completed in accordance with all the terms of reference set out under the JBNQA, the Paix des braves, the Boumhounan Agreement and the Agreement concerning the Environmental Assessment of the Eastmain 1-A/Rupert Project.

The GCC(EI)-CRA trusts in the ability of the Cree people to make the right decisions for the future of the Cree Nation.

The Cree people have chosen an improved relationship with the Quebec government and the rest of Quebec. They have agreed to contemplate again a sacrifice to allow others to prosper and also to allow for conditions for their own communities to do likewise. But this time we will be extremely vigilant in ensuring that the agreements we enter into are implemented.

The Cree people have chosen a path which seeks to preserve to the extent possible the attachment of the Crees to the land and to the hunting, fishing and trapping way of life, while also ensuring a very real and growing participation in the wage economy and governance of Northern Quebec.

The Crees will face the challenges that are before them now and in the future as they have met such challenges in the past. The Crees will work diligently to build on the past and future achievements and results of the Cree Nation. We owe it to our people. However this cannot be achieved independently but must be achieved with all the signatories to the JBNQA. This of course raises the issue of the obligations of the federal government.


Though Quebec has made some substantial efforts to remedy past breaches of the JBNQA and to develop a more positive relationship with the Cree, the same cannot be said of the federal government.

Long-standing breaches to the JBNQA remain unresolved by the federal government. Multi-billion dollar lawsuits are still pending between the Crees and the federal government. Why is this issue pertinent to this assessment? Quite clearly, the Cree Nation will not be in a position to fully participate in the development of the territory until such time as the federal government has itself fulfilled its obligations and commitments under the JBNQA. As an example, the federal government has shared responsibilities for the social and economic development pursuant to Section 28 of the JBNQA. This section is meant to ensure the participation of the Crees in the economic opportunities resulting from the development of the territory. Our institutions of government and economic development must effectively encourage open communication and cooperation, political and legal stability and fair opportunity if real change is to occur.

The government of Canada must resolve with us the long-standing federal JBNQA implementation issues. The federal government has for years raked in billions from James Bay hydro development, but has not respected the JBNQA.

We want to be clear about the fact that federal resolution of these issues is fundamental to the future of development in James Bay including hydro development.


We strongly encourage you to take into account the preoccupations of the Cree people who have come to testify in your public hearings or who have submitted briefs to you.

We also encourage you to review this project with all objectivity to ensure that the criteria for project acceptability set out under the JBNQA have been fully taken into account in your recommendations.

This will particularly require you to review alternatives to the project and to explain these alternatives and their advantages and disadvantages. This is essential for the Crees and the public to understand.

In any event, we strongly encourage you to ensure that the long-term on-going independent monitoring of the impacts of all hydroelectric projects in the territory be included in any project authorization conditions. Such monitoring program needs to be reasonably independent of Hydro-Quebec, must ensure close participation of the Crees in the design and implementation of the monitoring program, and must be carried out by independent experts. This on-going long?term monitoring must include both environmental and sociological impacts and address economic and cultural issues.

We stress this matter with you. Our trappers and hunters have told us that in past projects, once the authorization is given, they receive little information about how the project is being built, how it operates, and how its impacts are being dealt with. The involvement on a long-term basis of those directly affected by the project is fundamental. It is your responsibility to ensure that this is done for this project, should you decide to authorize it. You should consider setting up an independent monitoring body for this project to ensure that the conditions of the project are fulfilled with a high level of professional and formally independent involvement named by the Crees and Quebec. Environmental and social impact remedial works and monitoring must be continued on a long-term basis.

Particular attention needs to be brought to the management of the water flows resulting from the diversion. This should not be left solely in the hands of the promoter, Hydro-Quebec. Rather, all stakeholders in the river, and more particularly the Crees, should have a voice in the management of these flows and must be guided by monitoring studies on the impacts of these managed flows designed to maximize their positive effect on fish populations and human use of the river. This would greatly improve the chances of developing a sustainable biotic environment in the river after its eventual diversion. This would also allow further control of erosion along the La Grande River resulting from the addition in the La Grande system of the water diverted from the Rupert. An independent water-management control board comprising Crees should be considered.

Moreover, we encourage you to carry out your important task with full objectivity and with a view of ensuring the protection of the environment and a sustainable future for the Cree People.

Thank you.